Low-fat diet may help combat risk of ovarian cancer

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — Implementing a low-fat diet for an extended period of time may help reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, according to a study of more than 48,000 older women. Results of the study were published on-line Oct. 9 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The study was part of the Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification (DM) Randomized Controlled Trial, which examined 48,835 postmenopausal women. Approximately 30,000 women were told to follow their normal diet, while 20,000 women were assigned to a diet modification group. The women participating in the low-fat diet were asked to reduce their fat intake to 20% of their overall diet, as well as eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day and at least six servings of whole grains. They were followed for an average of 8.1 years.

The risk of ovarian cancer was similar in the two groups for the first four years of follow-up, but it was reduced in the dieting group during the following four years, suggesting a low-fat dietary pattern may reduce the incidence of ovarian cancer among postmenopausal women. In addition, women who had the highest fat intake before the trial experienced the greatest reduction in risk, the study showed.

"This is really good news," said Dr. Jacques Rossouw of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the work. "But you have to stick with the diet."

While the study showed possible benefits for ovarian cancer from a low-fat diet, it so far has found the diet made little impact on rates of breast cancer, colorectal cancer and heart disease.

Ovarian cancer is fairly rare, affecting one in 60 women compared with the one in 9 who will get breast cancer. But it is among the most lethal because it is much harder to treat. Only 45% of patients survive five years.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 22,430 U.S. women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year; 15,280 women will die of it.

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