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Diet and ovarian cancer

Published:Wednesday | March 17, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Charlyn Fargo, Contributor

I have a friend who was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Prior to this, she was someone most of us would consider healthy - exercising regularly and eating right. A new study finds that her healthy lifestyle, and particularly her healthy eating habits, may increase her survival rates. In the 2009 study, estimates projected that 21,550 new cases of ovarian cancer would be diagnosed in the United States alone, and 14,600 would be given a relatively low five-year survival rate of about 45 per cent.

Published in the March 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, this study is among the first to evaluate possible diet associations with ovarian cancer survival. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago determined that there is a strong relationship between healthy eating and prolonged survival.

Food frequency

The subjects included 351 women diagnosed with incident epithelial ovarian cancer; they had participated in a previous case-control study. The original study collected demographic, clinicopathologic and lifestyle-related variables, including diet. Each subject completed a food-frequency questionnaire, where they were asked to report their usual dietary intake over the three to five years prior to their diagnosis.

To translate the diet estimates into a meaningful way, the food-frequency questionnaire items were assigned to the major food groups reflected in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 (DGA), which includes fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, dairy, fats and oils, sweets and alcohol. Grains, meats and dairy were further subdivided to "suggested" and "other" groups. The "suggested" subdivisions included healthier food choices, whereas the "other" subdivisions contained less desirable selections.

More fruits and vegetables

The authors found that higher total fruit and vegetable consumption and higher vegetable consumption, alone, led to a survival advantage. Likewise, a statistically significant improvement in survival was observed for the healthier grains. Higher intakes of less-healthy meats were associated with a survival time disadvantage.

"The study findings suggest that food patterns three to five years prior to a diagnosis of epithelial ovarian cancer have the potential to influence survival time," wrote Therese Dolecek - research associate professor of epidemiology, Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and Institute for Health Research and Policy, School of Public Health and Member, Cancer Control and Population Science Research Program, UIC Cancer Center, University of Illinois at Chicago.

"The pre-diagnosis food patterns observed, to afford a survival advantage after an epithelial ovarian cancer diagnosis, reflect characteristics commonly found in plant-based or low-fat diets. These diets generally contain high levels of constituents that would be expected to protect against cancer and minimise ingestion of known carcinogens found in foods."

The study provides new evidence that dietary factors, particularly total fruits and vegetables, red and processed meat and milk intakes, may influence ovarian cancer survival. Just one more reason to eat healthy.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, www.creators.com..