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Treating and preventing ovarian cancer

Phyto to the Rescue

The yearly number of American women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer could easily fill a football stadium. Fortunately, the success rate for treatment of ovarian cancer is very high when the disease is caught in the early stages. So, in recognition of National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to revisit some information about three ovarian cancer studies that I first told you about this past spring.

Two of the studies offer easy steps that women can take to help prevent ovarian cancer, and the third study provides a course of action that may increase the chances of survival for women who are diagnosed with the disease.

Yellow, orange & red

At HSI, we’ve written frequently about phytochemicals; the bioactive compounds in plant foods that help nutrients boost the immune system.

Recently, researchers at the University of Buffalo set out to determine the effects of phytochemical intake on ovarian cancer. Using food-frequency questionnaires, they examined the diets of more than 800 women (124 with ovarian cancer).

The results (published in the Journal of Nutrition) showed that women cut their risk of ovarian cancer almost in half with a high intake of plant fiber. This was especially true of carotenoid vegetables (that is: vegetables with yellow, orange, and red pigments), and lignans, a phytonutrient in flaxseed that has been shown to have anti-carcinogenic effects.

Researchers surmised that the protective effect of the vegetables may be due to phytoestrogens – plant compounds that have mild estrogenic properties.

Mopping up

The second study comes from a joint effort between Australian and Chinese researchers who examined the levels of physical activity in a group of more than 900 Chinese women. Approximately one-third of the women had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Researchers found a clear pattern suggesting that a higher level of physical activity decreases the risk of ovarian cancer. Women who participated in strenuous physical activity were least likely to develop ovarian cancer, while light to moderate activity was also shown to have a protective effect, but not as much as those whose exercise qualified as strenuous.

In the “light to moderate” category, the researchers included “housework.” And I noticed that several news reports picked up on this detail, some even going so far as to use catchy leads, such as “Housework may help prevent ovarian cancer.” (I bet the Lysol people love that one.)

There’s no doubt that dusting, vacuuming, mopping, window cleaning, etc., will all work up a good sweat while using just about every muscle in the body. But personally, I’d rather run 10 miles than spend a day scrubbing floors.

Back to the garden

For those who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, a new study shows that dietary choices can help make a difference in survival chances. Using a food frequency questionnaire over a three-year period, researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia followed the diets of more than 600 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After seeing the results of the University of Buffalo study above, it’s not surprising that the Queensland research found that women who ate vegetables improved their chances of long-term survival.

More specifically, women who had a high intake of cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts – all rich in phytochemicals) and vitamin E, had increased survival rates, especially if they had five or more daily servings of vegetables. These conclusions support previous studies and the work of Jonathan V. Wright, M.D., all of which have demonstrated the cancer-fighting effects of cruciferous vegetables on breast, colon, lung and prostate cancers.

The Queensland research also showed that subjects whose diets included a high intake of dairy products had shorter survival rates.

Testing the future

With quite a bit of previous research we’ve seen how a daily exercise regimen combined with an intake of fresh vegetables can have many positive health results, including cancer-fighting benefits. So while none of these three studies contain truly groundbreaking information, taken together they underline useful and specific steps that can be taken to prevent and cope with ovarian cancer.

The early detection of ovarian cancer is crucial, but unfortunately very difficult. Early stages of the disease sometimes produce no symptoms at all, and when symptoms finally do occur (such as loss of appetite, indigestion, gas pains and nausea to name a few) they’re often not identified as early warning signs.

While researching the three studies I’ve told you about today, I also came across a report about a new blood test for ovarian cancer being developed by the Kolling Institute of Medical Research in Australia. The blood test currently available can only measure the activity of a single protein. The new test – which may be available as early as 2004 – will be able to measure many blood proteins at one time. Researchers hope this will reveal other proteins that become active in ovarian cancer.

I’ll keep you posted about any new developments regarding the Kolling research. In the meantime it couldn’t hurt to schedule some vigorous house cleaning – followed up with a feast of phytochemicals!

Because this is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, I hope you’ll share this e-Alert with the women in your life. Help get the word out that there are natural and easy methods available that can help prevent and overcome ovarian cancer.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute


“Risk of Human Ovarian Cancer Is Related to Dietary Intake of Selected Nutrients, Phytochemicals and Food Groups” Journal of Nutrition, 133:1937-1942, June 2003,

“Phytoestrogens May Protect Against Ovarian Cancer”, 5/6/03,

“Dietary Influences on Survival After Ovarian Cancer” International Journal of Cancer, V. 106, Issue 2, 2003, 264-269,

“Ovarian Cancer Patients Urged to Eat Greens” ABC News, 5/29/03,

“New Test for Ovarian Cancer” Anna Patty, Herald Sun, 6/5/03,

“Exercise Can Prevent Ovarian Cancer: Study” ABC News, 6/4/03,

“Exercise Fights Cancer” AAP & Herald Sun, 6/8/03,