Ovarian Cancer: Nutritional Considerations
The role of nutrition in ovarian cancer is not yet firmly established.
However, the following nutritional steps are under investigation
for a possible role in preventing ovarian cancer:
- Avoiding or reducing meat consumption: A high
intake of fat may increase the risk of ovarian cancer, perhaps
by as much as 25 percent. Most of this risk is attributed to saturated
fat intake. Various food sources of saturated fat have been implicated,
including meat, eggs, and whole milk.
Animal fat and meat are thought to increase risk by influencing
estrogen activity and blood concentrations of insulin–like growth
factor–1 (IGF–1), a hormone that has been implicated in several
cancers, including ovarian cancer.
- Avoiding milk: Saturated fat aside, even women
who drink skim or low–fat milk in small amounts (one or more servings
per day) have a greater risk for ovarian cancer. This may be due
to the hormones and growth factors present in milk.
- A diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables: Women
whose diets are rich in fruits and vegetables appear to have a
reduced risk of developing ovarian cancer. This may be due to their
high levels of carotenoids, such as beta–carotene and lutein, and
folate (especially in green leafy vegetables).
- A diet rich in vitamin E: Higher intake of food
sources of vitamin E (including whole grains, wheat germ, and nuts)
is associated with a 40 percent lower risk for ovarian cancer.
It is not yet known if taking vitamin E supplements results in
the same protective effect. Some evidence indicates that taking
at least 75 mg per day of vitamin E pills is associated with lower
risk. Other studies indicate this benefit is evident only with
long–term (longer than 10 years) supplementation.
- Maintaining a healthy body weight: Obesity
in adolescence or early adulthood may double the risk for ovarian
cancer. The same low–fat, plant–based diet that lowers cancer risk
generally also helps trim excess body weight.
- Moderate alcohol intake: Alcohol–containing
beverages do not appear to increase the risk for ovarian cancer.
Studies suggest that alcohol intake may even be protective against
this cancer in patients who have a high intake of folate. However,
given the health risks of alcohol consumption, including increased
breast cancer risk, alcohol use cannot be recommended as a prevention
- Green tea consumption: Drinking at
least one cup of green tea per day may lower the risk for developing
- Consider a consultation with a registered dietician
to help make the appropriate dietary changes.
Nutrition for survival
Women with established ovarian cancer who consume vegetable–rich
diets may have improved survival. In one study, women who consumed
the most vegetables had a 25 percent lower death rate, compared with
women who ate the fewest vegetables.
Of note, some studies suggest that a benefit only occurs in women
who eat at least three servings of vegetables daily. Other studies
suggest that the benefit primarily occurs when women increase their
intake during adolescence.
Green tea has been associated with a lower mortality risk in women
with established ovarian cancer.