Enteral (oral or tube administration) nutritional support and eicosapentaenoic acid in patients with cancer: A systematic review

M. Elia*, M. A.E. Van Bokhorst-De Van Der Schueren, J. Garvey, A. Goedhart, K. Lundholm, G. Nitenberg, R. J. Stratton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


The aim of this systematic review was to determine the efficacy and potential benefits of enteral nutritional support [oral nutritional supplements (ONS) or enteral tube feeding (ETF)], and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, free acid, ethyl esters or fish oil; provided as capsules or enriched ONS or ETF) in patients with cancer. Clinical studies were identified using electronic databases, and studies were selected according to predetermined criteria. For each treatment modality (chemo/radiotherapy, surgery, and palliative care), the comparisons of interest were nutritional support vs. routine care (no nutritional support), EPA supplement (capsule or enriched ONS or ETF) vs. routine care (no supplement or standard supplement), ETF vs. parenteral nutrition (PN). The reviewed outcomes were dietary intake, anthropometry, clinical (mortality, length of hospital stay, complications, and quality of life) and haematological/biochemical (white blood cell count, serum transferrin and albumin, CD3-positive lymphocytes, and inflammatory markers). Meta-analyses were performed where possible. In patients undergoing radiotherapy, meta-analysis showed that ONS significantly increase dietary intake (381 kcal/day, 95% CI 193 to 569 in 3 RCTs) compared to routine care. In patients undergoing surgery, meta-analyses showed that ETF results in a significantly shorter length of hospital stay (1.72 fewer days, 95% CI 0.90 to 2.54 in 8 RCTs), lower incidence of any complications (OR 0.62, 95% CI 0.50 to 0.77 in 4 RCTs) and infectious complications (OR 0.67, 95% CI 0.55 to 0.82 in 11 RCTs) and lower sepsis scores (2.21 points, 95% CI 1.49 to 2.92 in 2 RCTs), but no difference in mortality (OR 0.72, 95% CI 0.40 to 1.29 in 7 RCTs) compared to PN. There was also no difference in mortality between ONS or ETF vs. routine care in patients undergoing chemotherapy/radiotherapy (OR 1.00, 95% CI 0.62-1.61 in 4 RCTs) or surgery (OR 2.44, 95% CI 0.75 to 7.95 in 4 RCTs). Individual studies of EPA supplementation as capsules showed improvements in survival, complications and inflammatory markers in patients undergoing bone marrow transplant (BMT). In palliative care patients receiving EPA-enriched ONS or capsules, there were inconsistent positive effects on survival and quality of life. In those undergoing surgery, EPA-enriched ETF had no effect. Further research is required to elucidate the clinical efficacy of enteral nutrition support, including the potential benefits of EPA supplementation, in patients with cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-23
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Oncology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2006

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