A new study shows that your diet could influence the chances of survival for ovarian cancer patients. How is this possible?

Reuters reports on how diet affects ovarian cancer patients. Women with healthier diets before an ovarian cancer diagnosis are not as likely to die in the years following the cancer than women with worse diets. The only exception to this finding was women with diabetes.

Dr. Thompson, who led the study, told Reuters, “A healthy diet before diagnosis may indicate a stronger immune system and, indirectly, the capacity to respond favorably to cancer therapy. It also may reflect our capacity to sustain healthy eating after diagnosis, which in turn could support better health in a broader sense.”

How was the study conducted?

The researchers analyzed 636 cases of ovarian cancer occurring between 1993 and 1998, 90 percent of which were invasive cancers. The women involved in the study had filled out dietary and physical activity questionnaires at least one year prior to their cancer diagnoses as part of the larger Women’s Health Initiative study. Researchers look at the heights, weights and waist circumferences of the participants.

Which foods are the most helpful?

The healthy eating index used for the study analyzed ten dietary components. It scored diets with a higher amount of vegetables and fruit, more variety in vegetables and fruit, more whole grains lower amounts of fat and alcohol and more fiber as healthier than other food diets.

What were the results?

“On average, the women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer around age 63. As of September 17, 2012, 354 of the women had died, and 305 of those died specifically from ovarian cancer. When the researchers divided the women into three groups based on their diet quality, those in the healthiest-eating group were 27 percent less likely to die of any cause after ovarian cancer diagnosis than those in the poorest diet group,” according to Reuters.

Researchers found a similar but slightly weaker connection between pre-diagnosis diet and death due particularly to ovarian cancer. A diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains may lower inflammation, which has been associated with ovarian cancer mortality. High marks on the Healthy Eating Index are extremely similar to guidelines and recommendations for cancer survivors provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research as well as the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Bandera, from the Rutgers Cancer Institute told Reuters, “The index gives more points for eating good foods, such as vegetables and whole grains and fewer points for eating not-recommended foods, such as added sugars, fatty foods and refined grains. Interestingly, they found that it was not the individual components that affected mortality, but an overall healthy diet. Such a diet has also been linked to reduced risk of other chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which may complicate ovarian cancer treatment and increase mortality.”

Ladies with a history of diabetes and those with a waist circumference greater than thirty-four inches did not seem to get the same survival advantage from a healthy diet as other women. In their report, the study authors note that past research has already connected diabetes with higher-than-average mortality in ovarian cancer. The amount of regular exercise women got before diagnosis did not seem to influence the connection between diet quality and survival.

Dr. McTiernan, from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, commented on the study, telling Reuters Health by email,

“High scores on the Healthy Eating Index are very similar to guidelines and recommendations for cancer survivors provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the American Cancer Society. However, the data on diet and lifestyle associations with ovarian cancer survival are all observational. Clear recommendations would require a randomized controlled clinical trial.”


Gerry Oginski
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