WebMD Medical News
Louise Chang, MD
Mar. 4, 2010 -- Women who eat a healthy diet in the years before their
ovarian cancer diagnosis may live longer than those who don't, according to a
''Women [in the study] who had a better overall diet quality had a survival
advantage over those who did not," says study researcher Therese Dolecek, PhD,
research associate professor of epidemiology and an investigator at the
Institute for Health Research and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago's
School of Public Health.
The study is published in the Journal of the American Dietetic
Ovarian cancer is associated with a poor outlook because it's often
diagnosed at a late stage, after it has spread. An estimated 21,550 women were
diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009, according to the American Cancer
Society, with 14,600 deaths expected from the disease that year.
Dolecek can't say based on the research whether a woman diagnosed with
ovarian cancer who begins eating a healthier diet will live longer.
Dolecek and colleagues followed 341 women from Cook County, Ill., all
diagnosed with ovarian cancer from 1994 to 1998. The women had participated in
a previous study and supplied information about their diet.
The researchers looked for links between healthier diets and longer
survival, focusing on the women's eating of fruits, vegetables, whole grains,
meats, dairy, fats and oils, and other foods.
Healthy food patterns were linked with longer survival times, although some
foods had a stronger association than others. "To pinpoint exactly how much
survival [was lengthened] is not possible," she tells WebMD. 'It varies from
person to person." Many factors affect survival, such as the stage of the
cancer at diagnosis and the woman's age.
It also varied depending on the foods. For instance, Dolecek found that
yellow and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale) seem
particularly beneficial. ''At five years, 75% of the women who ate less than
one serving a week of yellow vegetables were alive, compared to about 82% of
those who had three or more servings of yellow vegetables a week," she
Those who ate the most red meat, processed meat, and cured meat had a
briefer survival time. When the researchers looked at red meat lovers vs.
avoiders, "we found almost a threefold risk of dying for those women who ate
four or more servings of red meat a week compared to those who ate less than
one serving per week over the 11-year study period," Dolecek says.
Women who drank more milk also had a disadvantage, although Dolecek can't
"Women who had seven or more servings of milk of any type per week were two
times as likely to die during the study period as those who had none." But
Dolecek stressed that the milk finding should be interpreted cautiously. "It
may have something to do with the fact that they are genetically
Eating fruits also helped, but as a whole, high intakes of fruits and
vegetables evaluated together didn't make enough of a survival difference to be
significant from a statistical point of view, the researchers found.
It's not clear, either, exactly how a healthy diet may lengthen survival in
those with ovarian cancer, Dolecek says. "You might have a stronger immune
system," she says, Or ''your overall health status may be better."
In future research, Dolecek hopes to find out if improving the diet after
diagnosis may also boost survival. "Further research is needed to determine if
the quality of the post-diagnosis diet impacts survival," she says.
The new findings echo some from previous research, says Cynthia A. Thomson,
PhD, RD, an associate professor of nutritional sciences, medicine, and public
health at the Arizona Cancer Center, University of Arizona, Tucson, who
co-authored an editorial to accompany the new study.
''I think the message is 'lifestyle matters' -- and lifelong lifestyle
habits," she tells WebMD.
The message from the study, Thomson says, is optimistic for some. "Yes, you
may still have a difficult diagnosis to deal with, but if you go in being a
healthy eater, in the long run you may have a better prognosis and
''Ideally," she says, "we need to study this after diagnosis and find out if
they change their eating -- can they change their survival [time]."
SOURCES:Therese A. Dolecek, PhD, RD, research associate professor of epidemiology,
Institute for Health Research and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago
School of Public Health.Dolecek, T. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, March 2010;
vol 110: pp 369-382.Thomson, C. Journal of the American Dietetic Association; March 2010;
vol 110: pp 366-368.
The Health News section does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See additional information.