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Nov 2010 Ovarian Cancer: Diet Matters


Cancer prevention is important, but it is particularly crucial for those types of cancer not easily detected early. Ovarian cancer is frequently diagnosed at a more advanced stage resulting in poorer survival rates than other cancers. Once diagnosed with this type of cancer most women ask what caused cancer to occur, and what changes in a lifestyle could be done. Could, for example, natural compounds in food help prevent or slow progression of ovarian cancer?

Many medical investigations focus on a role of dietary regimen on overall health and well being. Studies with phytochemicals, found in vegetables and fruits, have indicated their beneficial role in preventing cancer [1, 2]. Moreover, prediagnosis food patterns may affect ovarian cancer survival rate. Consumption of vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, and kale) has particularly beneficial impact on the outcome. In contrast to this, red and processed meats as well as milk negatively influence survival time [3].


Main text:

It has been widely acknowledged that phytochemicals, natural compounds found in vegetables, fruits, beans and tea can prevent a variety of diseases in humans — including cancer — by protecting cells from DNA damage.


A study, published in the International Journal of Cancer in 2007 which involved almost 67, 000 women, has looked at flavonoid consumption over 14 years [1]. Kaempferol, a flavonoid found in tea, broccoli, kale and spinach, and luteolin found in peppers, carrots, cabbage and celery are both identified as cancer protective. Results of the study showed that women who consumed the most of these two flavonoids were 40% and 34% (respectively) less likely to develop ovarian cancer compared to women who consumed the least. Those who consumed high levels of a phytochemical called myricetin (found in tea, dried beans, raisins and blueberries) also seemed protected [1].


Another study linked greater consumption of carotenoid phytochemicals with a 67% lower risk of ovarian cancer [2]. This included not only beta-carotene, carotenoid in deep-orange vegetables and fruits, but also alpha-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin — carotenoids found in a wide range of red, orange, yellow and green vegetables. This research demonstrated a reduction in ovarian cancer risk of greater than 50% among top vegetable consumers [2].


Women who follow a healthy diet in the years before their ovarian cancer diagnosis may live longer than those who don't, according to a new study [3]. Authors of this study followed 341 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer from 1994 to 1998, and looked for links between diets and survival time. Consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains showed favorable influences on survival time. By contrast, consumption of meats and dairy (all types of milk, cheese, and ice cream) showed unfavorable influences on survival time.


For example, five years after diagnosis 75% of the women who ate less than one serving a week of yellow vegetables were alive, compared to about 82% of those who had three or more servings of yellow vegetables a week. Those consuming most fruits and vegetables had only about 60% the risk of dying during an almost 10 year follow up, compared with those eating least fruits and vegetables. And the median consumption in the high-fruits-and-vegetables group was still modest: lower than the DGA guidelines (Dietary Guidelines for American 2005). Among meat lovers and those who avoided it, a two- to threefold risk of dying has been found for women who ate four or more servings of processed meat, respectively red meat, per week when compared to those who ate less than one serving per week. Besides, women reporting any type of milk (whole, 2%, or skim) had two times worse survival than those indicating no milk consumption [3].


By: Svetlana Obradovic and Luuk Simons


[1] Gates, M. A., S. S. Tworoger, J. L. Hecht et. al (2007). A prospective study of dietary flavonoid intake and incidence of epithelial ovarian cancer. International Journal of Cancer 121. pp. 2225 - 32.



[2] Zhang, M., C. D. J. Holman and C. W. Binns (2007). Intake of specific carotenoids and the risk of epithelial ovarian cancer. British Journal of Nutrition 98.187-93.



[3] Dolecek, T. A., B. J. McCarthy, C. E. Joslin et. al (2010). Prediagnosis food patterns are associated with length of survival from epithelial ovarian cancer. Journal of the American Dietetic Assotiation 110. pp. 369-82.


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