Fatty Foods Linked to Ovarian Cancer

Diet high in meat and fat may increase a woman’s risk by up to 50 percent

Woman Eyeing CheeseburgerOvarian cancer rarely gets the media attention that breast cancer gets, which is a shame because it is the No. 1 gynecologic cancer killer. It’s so deadly because its symptoms — abdominal/pelvic pain, bloating, gas, indigestion and frequent urination — are so vague that they can be attributed to many other less serious health conditions.

For this reason, ovarian cancer often gets diagnosed when it’s at an advanced stage, making it much more difficult to treat and survive. In fact, five-year survival of advanced-stage ovarian cancer is less than 50 percent.

Obviously, knowing your body, making sure you’re aware of the symptoms, and being your own health advocate play a huge role in early detection and diagnosis. Also, since ovarian cancer symptoms are so ambiguous, and screening or testing for this disease is not commonplace, it’s important to do what you can to reduce risk factors. There are many ovarian cancer risk factors that you simply can’t control — like family history — but one controllable risk factor that has been studied over the past several years is fat consumption.

More Fat Equals Higher Ovarian Cancer Risk

Recently, the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study assessed diets using a food frequency questionnaire and found that the women with the highest total fat intake had a 28 percent higher risk of ovarian cancer compared with those with the lowest fat intake. Animal fat intake posed a greater risk than plant-sourced fat. Researchers also noted that the association between fat intake and ovarian cancer was stronger in women who never gave birth to children or never used oral contraceptives — two factors that have been shown to reduce ovarian cancer risk.[1]

This study confirms the findings of earlier studies that also noted a correlation between fat intake and ovarian cancer risk. In one such study, researchers analyzed the diets of 683 women with ovarian cancer versus 777 women without ovarian cancer. They concluded that a diet high in meat and fat increased the risk of ovarian cancer by up to 50 percent, while a diet high in fruits and vegetables did not.[2]

Out With the Bad Fat, In With the Good

By now, everyone knows that diets high in fatty foods can increase the risk of many diseases other than cancer — including heart disease and diabetes. But following rigid low-fat diets can be difficult and, quite frankly, pretty boring.

This is why following the Mediterranean diet is the easiest way to cut unhealthy, cancer-causing fat and boost the amount of nutrients you need to stay healthy, all while eating delicious, whole foods.

The Mediterranean diet is not really a diet, which is why those who follow it never feel deprived. It’s more like an eating plan that focuses on consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, raw nuts, fresh herbs, olive oil, fish and poultry. Notice beef, butter and whole-fat dairy are not in this list.

Instead of clogging your arteries with saturated fats, you’re consuming heart-healthy unsaturated fats like olive oil and fish, which are rich in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

Of course, the occasional burger or bowl of ice cream is not going to do much harm if you follow a sensible eating plan the majority of the time. As always, when it comes to dietary splurges, moderation is key.

Exercise the Risk Away

Along with reducing fat intake, studies have shown that engaging in moderate (not vigorous) physical activity every day can significantly reduce ovarian cancer risk.[3] So be sure to get out there and get moving — whether it’s a simple stroll through the neighborhood or a more organized form of exercise like an aerobics or weight-training class. Any kind of exercise will do your ovaries — and the rest of your body — a lot of good.


[1] Blank M et al. Dietary fat intake and risk of ovarian cancer in the NIH-AARP diet and health study. Br J Cancer. 2012;106:596–602.

[2] Kolahdooz F et al. Dietary patterns and ovarian cancer risk. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jan;89(1):297–304.

[3] Pan S et al. Physical activity and the risk of ovarian cancer: A case-control study in Canada. Int J Cancer. 2005;117:300–307.

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