1. Human colon tumour growth, initiated by subcutaneous inoculation of HT29 cells, was measured in athymic mice fed ad libitum on high-fat (210 g/kg) diets rich in coconut oil (CO), olive oil (OO), safflower oil (SO) or fish oil (FO); a low fat (LF; 25 g/kg) diet was used as the control. In one experiment the mice were fed the experimental diets for 3 weeks before HT29 cell inoculation and were killed 2 weeks post-inoculation. In a second experiment the mice were maintained on the LF diet until 4 days post-HT29 cell inoculation; they were then fed the experimental diets for 17 days.
2. Compared with mice fed the LF diet, tumour size was increased in mice fed the CO, OO or SO diets for 3 weeks before HT29 cell inoculation; FO feeding did not significantly increase tumour size.
3. Feeding mice the CO or OO diets from 4 days post-inoculation increased tumour growth rate and tumour size compared with feeding the LF, SO or FO diets; tumour growth rate and size did not differ among mice fed the latter diets.
4. The fatty acid composition of the tumours was markedly influenced by the fatty acid composition of the diet.
5. We conclude that human colon tumour growth is influenced by the type of fat consumed in the diet. Human colon tumour growth in this model is promoted by feeding high fat diets rich in medium chain saturated fatty acids (CO) or monounsaturated fatty acids (OO). A high fat diet, rich in long chain n — 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (FO), does not promote colon tumour growth. The effect of a high fat diet rich in n — 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (SO) depends upon the time at which it is fed: if fed before tumour cell inoculation such a diet promotes tumour growth, whereas if fed once tumour growth is initiated it does not. This suggests that n — 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids promote the initiation of colon tumour growth, but do not exert growth-promoting effects on colon tumours once they are established.