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Diet High in Vegetables May Improve Ovarian Cancer Survival


Women who consume a high amount of vegetables may increase their chances of surviving ovarian cancer, according to the results of a recently published study. In the study, women were asked about their intake of several foods prior to a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Those who consumed many vegetables were more likely to survive ovarian cancer than those who consumed few vegetables or a large amount of diary products. Though further research is needed to confirm these findings, a diet high in vegetables has been shown to be important in helping to prevent a number of health problems, including heart disease.

Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer among women and the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the United States. Like many cancers, ovarian cancer can be highly treatable if detected in early stages. However, many cases of ovarian cancer are not diagnosed until advanced stages. This is because the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be very subtle ("silent") or unnoticeable until the disease has progressed significantly. The American Cancer Society estimates that over 25,000 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in 2003 and more than 14,000 women will die from the disease this year.

In investigating ways to improve survival of ovarian cancer, Christina M. Nagle of the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia and colleagues studied the diets of 609 women who were later diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Women were asked about their consumption of 119 different foods prior to an ovarian cancer diagnosis. The researchers then compared the results of the questionnaires with the women’s survival rates.

Their analysis found that women who consumed large amounts of vegetables, particularly cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, were 45% more likely to survive five years after a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, compared with women who did not consume a high number of vegetables. Women who consumed high amounts of vitamin E from foods improved their odds of survival too. However, the use of vitamin supplements did not appear to have an effect on survival.

Diary products, on the other hand, were associated with an increased risk of death from ovarian cancer. Women who consumed high amounts of lactose, calcium, and dairy products were 30% more likely to die in the short term from ovarian cancer, compared to women who consumed small amounts of these foods.

Though researchers must confirm the results of this study in larger studies before recommendations about diet can be made for women to help prevent deaths from ovarian cancer, the results do suggest that a high vegetable diet may improve the odds of surviving the disease. Diets high in vegetables and fruits have known health benefits against several diseases, including heart disease or colorectal cancer.

Known risk factors for ovarian cancer include:

  • Advanced age
  • Family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer
  • Genetic alterations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes (also increases breast cancer risk) 
  • Early menstruation (before age 12) or late menopause (after age 50)
  • Hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC)
  • Having a first child after age 30 or never having children

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