Differential effects of fatty acids on carcinogenesis suggest that fatty acid composition is important in tumor development. Arachidonic acid and its metabolites elicit inflammation and promote tumor formation in mouse skin. Inhibitors of the arachidonic cascade inhibit tumor incidence. A population-based case control study in Southeastern Arizona tested the hypothesis that lower levels of arachidonic acid in RBC membranes were associated with decreased risk of skin squamous cell carcinoma (SCC; n = 335 SCC cases and 321 controls). Extracted and esterified RBC fatty acids were analyzed using capillary gas chromatography. Individual peaks for 14 fatty acids were measured as a percentage of total fatty acids. Logistic regression was used to estimate odds ratios (OR), adjusting for SCC risk factors (age, gender, actinic keratosis history, freckling, and tanning ability). Increased levels of arachidonic acid in RBC membranes were associated with increased risk of SCC [odds ratio (OR), 1.08 per mg/100 mL change; 95% confidence interval (95% CI), 1.02-1.15] and this association remained when controls with actinic keratosis precursor lesions were excluded. SCC risk was highest among the upper quartile of arachidonic acid (OR, 2.38; 95% CI, 1.37-4.12). In contrast, increasing proportions of palmitic acid (OR, 0.94; 95% CI, 0.89-1.00) and palmitoleicacid (OR, 0.49; 95% CI, 0.30-0.81) were associated with reduced SCC risk. More studies are needed to elucidate the function of RBC fatty acids so that recommendations can be made to alter the human diet for cancer prevention.
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