Q.What can I do in terms of diet to lower my risk of developing ovarian cancer?
A.Several studies have investigated possible links between diet and ovarian cancer, but none have definitive answers. The recent comprehensive review on diet and cancer from the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund concluded there is no proven link between diet and ovarian cancer. However, several possible diet connections deserve more research.
Who’s at Risk? Ovarian cancer will affect one in 60 women over a lifetime. While nowhere near as common as breast cancer, it is particularly deadly because signs and symptoms often don’t appear until it has already spread to other organs. Older women are at greatest risk.
Possible Prevention via Diet. To date, research, though inconclusive, has identified several potential links between diet and ovarian cancer. Some studies have found that women whose diets are rich in fiber, fruits and vegetables are at lower risk for the disease. And a recent study found that women whose diets were rich in flavonoids?naturally occurring phytonutrients found in plant foods?were at decreased risk. In addition, a Swedish study found that women (especially those who drank alcohol) with the highest intake of the B vitamin folate were less likely to develop ovarian cancer. Several other studies, however, have not found any food or nutrient links.
Possible Diet Triggers. While there’s little proof diet can help prevent ovarian cancer, there’s even less regarding possible dietary triggers for the disease. Dietary fat is probably most under scrutiny.
Several studies, including the Women’s Health Initiative of nearly 50,000 women, found that those whose diets were lower in fat were at less risk for ovarian cancer. And a recent analysis by Harvard researchers of 12 previous studies found no significant association between milk or calcium intake and ovarian cancer risk, as previously thought.
Another study suggested a decreased risk of ovarian cancer with a high intake of dietary calcium.
EN’s Bottom Line. While there’s no clear proof of a connection between ovarian cancer and diet, it makes sense to eat an overall healthful diet. Most of the dietary components linked to prevention so far are part of a healthful diet recommended for prevention of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other types of cancer. Such a diet includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains and other low-fat, fiber-rich, folate-rich and flavonoid-rich foods.
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