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Can Diet Influence Ovarian Cancer Survival?


Could diet have a positive impact on ovarian cancer survival? An answer to that question was pursued by researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago, who found that there is a strong relationship between following a healthy diet and prolonged survival among ovarian cancer patients.

The study, which is one of the first to investigation a possible association between diet and ovarian cancer survival, included 351 women who had been diagnosed with incident epithelial ovarian cancer, the most common form of the disease. All of the women had participated in a previous study in which dietary data had been collected along with other factors.

The dietary information collected had covered the participants’ intake over the three to five years before they had been diagnosed. The food items were divided into major groups, including fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, dairy, fats and oils, sweets, and alcohol. Grains, meats, and dairy were then subdivided to “suggested” (healthier choices) and “other” (less desirable) categories.

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Analysis of the dietary data revealed that women who had a higher total intake of fruits and vegetables, and those who had a greater intake of vegetables alone had a survival advantage. Similarly, a significant improvement in survival was seen in women who ate healthier grains. High intakes of less healthy meats were associated with a worse survival time.

The latest figures from the National Cancer Institute indicate that approximately 22,000 women were diagnosed with the disease in 2009 and about 15,000 died. Ovarian cancer accounts for approximately 3 percent of cancers in women, and it is the deadliest of gynecologic cancers, according to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance.

The relative five-year survival rate is 46 percent, and for ten years it is 39 percent. Women who are diagnosed at an early stage have a much higher five-year survival rate than those who are diagnosed at a later stage, yet fewer than 20 percent of ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed early.

The study’s authors note that their findings suggest food intake habits three to five years before diagnosis of epithelial ovarian cancer “have the potential to influence survival time.” A survival advantage was seen in women with ovarian cancer who followed a plant-based or low-fat diet. “These diets generally contain high levels of constituents that would be expected to protect against cancer and minimize ingestion of known carcinogens found in foods,” note the authors.

Dolecek TA et al. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2010 Mar; 110 (3): 369-82
National Cancer Institute
Ovarian Cancer National Alliance