Eating Healthy May Help Reduce Ovarian Cancer Risk in Black Women

December 4, 2015
Kelly Johnson

African American women can reduce their risk of developing ovarian cancer by following healthy dietary guidelines, a recent study has found.

Bo (Bonnie) Qin, PhD

African American women can reduce their risk of developing ovarian cancer by following healthy dietary guidelines, a recent study has found.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States; although white women are more likely to be diagnosed with the disease, more black women die from it.

“Because there is currently no reliable screening available for ovarian cancer, most cases are diagnosed at advanced stages,” lead author Bo (Bonnie) Qin, PhD, a postdoctoral associate at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, said in a statement. “That highlights a critical need for identifying modifiable lifestyle factors, including dietary interventions.”

The study, presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) conference on The Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved, examined diets of 415 women with ovarian cancer and 629 women without it, using data from the African-American Cancer Epidemiology Study.

Women with cancer answered questions about their diet in the year leading up to their diagnosis, and the healthy women were interviewed about their diet during the previous year.

Among all women, those who adhered closely to the Alternate Healthy Eating Index-2010 (AHEI-2010)—which focuses on a greater intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and lower intake of sugar-sweetened drinks, red and processed meats, sodium, and trans fat—were 34% less likely to develop ovarian cancer than those who did not follow the guidelines (odds ratio [OR] comparing highest quartile [Q4] vs lowest [Q1] = 0.66; 95% CI, 0.45-0.98; P = .05).

Postmenopausal women benefitted especially from eating a healthy diet. Those who followed the AHEI-2010 guidelines were 51% less likely to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer (OR Q4 vs Q1 = 0.49; 95% CI, 0.31-0.78; P = .01). Postmenopausal women who had high adherence to the 2010 Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2010)—which also has an increased emphasis on seafood, plant proteins, low-fat dairy, and lower intake of empty calories—were 43% less likely to develop the disease (OR Q4 vs Q1 = 0.57; 95% CI, 0.36-0.92; P =.03).

The study also evaluated the impact of the 2005 Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2005), which emphasizes eating vegetables, whole grains, and certain types of fat, but found no associations among any of the women.

“As a high-quality diet is likely to have benefits for many chronic conditions, it is probably a safe bet for better health in general,” Qin said.

While the three dietary plans are similar, the AHEI-2010 includes more specific guidelines for protein and fat sources, and the investigators attribute the associations with the reduction of risk to a higher vegetable intake and lower intake of sugar-sweetened beverages. The HEI-2010 represents the most recent guidelines and recommends maximum nutrient intake for energy.

The authors acknowledged that there is a possibility of inaccuracy in their findings because the patients could have been biased in recalling their diets. They concluded that further studies are needed to confirm their findings, as well as to determine if specific nutrients can be accredited to risk reduction.

Qin B, Moorman PG, Alberg AJ, et al. Dietary quality and ovarian cancer risk in African-American women. Presented at: AACR conference on The Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved; Nov. 13-16, 2015; Atlanta, GA.