Diet may lower African American women's cancer risk

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Black women may be able to reduce their risk of ovarian cancer by eating a healthy diet, a new study suggests.

"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," study author Bonnie Qin, a postdoctoral associate at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, said in a news release from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).

Prevention is crucial

Qin is scheduled to present the research at an AACR meeting in Atlanta.

Read: Blood test for ovarian cancer

The study included 415 black women with ovarian cancer and a control group of 629 black women without the disease.

The cancer patients provided information about their eating habits in the year before their diagnosis, and those in the control group described their eating habits in the previous year.

The study wasn't designed to prove cause and effect. However, the results showed that those women with the healthiest diets – based on U.S. government guidelines – were 34 percent less likely to develop ovarian cancer than those with the least healthy diets.

Among postmenopausal women, those with the healthiest eating habits were 43 percent to 51 percent less likely to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer than those with the least healthy eating habits, Qin's team found.

Read: Smoking can harm ovaries

With ovarian cancer, prevention is crucial, Qin said.

"Because there is currently no reliable screening available for ovarian cancer, most cases are diagnosed at advanced stages," she noted.

"That highlights a critical need for identifying modifiable lifestyle factors, including dietary interventions."

More research is needed to determine whether all parts of a healthy diet, or just specific nutrients, contribute to reduced risk of ovarian cancer, Qin added.

One expert who reviewed the findings said they highlight the importance of eating well.

Read: Origin of aggressive ovarian cancer discovered 

The study "found that adherence to a healthy diet – one that includes a higher intake of vegetables, seafood and plant proteins and a lower intake of calories from solid fats, alcohol and added sugars – was associated with a significantly reduced risk of ovarian cancer," said Dr Stephen Rubin, chief of gynaecologic oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Centre in Philadelphia.

"Although the study is limited by the fact that patients may not accurately recall dietary details, these observations suggest yet another advantage to a healthy high-quality diet, which has been shown to have important health benefits for a large variety of serious medical conditions," he said.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among American women. While black women are less likely than white women to be diagnosed with the disease, they are more likely to die from it.

Findings presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal. 

Read more: 

Diet may influence ovarian cancer survival  

Experimental vaccine shows promise for ovarian cancer 

Ovarian cancer DNA detected in vaginal fluid

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