Ovarian cancer risk increases with greater ultra-processed food consumption, new observational study finds

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ovarian-cancer-risk-warning(NaturalHealth365)  According to the American Cancer Society, 19,710 women are expected to develop ovarian cancer in 2023 in the United States alone, with an estimated 13,270 women projected to lose their lives to the disease this year.  These numbers underscore the importance of continued research into ovarian cancer risk factors, prevention, and treatment options.

While researchers have identified various risk factors associated with ovarian cancer, new research is shedding light on a specific warning for women who are concerned about this disease or have already been diagnosed.

Ultra-processed foods in the diet may increase risk of ovarian cancer death

According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer is responsible for more deaths among women than any other cancer affecting the female reproductive system and is ranked fifth in female cancer-related deaths overall.  Additionally, a woman has about a 1 in 78 chance of developing ovarian cancer in her lifetime and a 1 in 108 chance of dying from this condition.

Could a diet high in ultra-processed foods be a contributing factor for many of these women?  A new report based on data from the United Kingdom says yes.

The study, published in eClinicalMedicine (part of The Lancet Discovery Science network), used data from a biomedical database and research resource known as the UK Biobank.  Researchers analyzed the eating habits of 197,426 people, more than half of whom were women, over a 10-year period.

Among other findings, the researchers identified an association between ultra-processed foods and a woman’s likelihood of developing and dying from ovarian cancer.  Specifically, for every 10% increase in ultra-processed food consumption, there was a 19% increased risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

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In other words:

The more ultra-processed food a woman eats (including prepackaged soups, sauces, frozen pizza and ready-to-eat meals, hot dogs, sausages, french fries, sodas, cookies, cakes, candies, doughnuts, and ice cream), the more likely it is that she will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

This is observational research, meaning it can’t prove that ultra-processed food consumption causes ovarian cancer (nor other types of cancer, for that matter).  But the findings “highlight the importance of considering degrees of food processing in diets” and further “suggest that limiting [ultra-processed food] consumption may be beneficial to prevent and reduce the modifiable burdens of cancer,” explain the authors.

Know the warning signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer (and what you can do to reduce your risk!)

It’s important to understand that the warning signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer can also be caused by other (and often less serious) health issues.  That said, if you notice any of the following ovarian cancer signs and symptoms in yourself or a loved one, do speak to your trusted healthcare provider:

  • Swelling or bloating in the stomach
  • Feeling full quickly while eating
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pain and discomfort in the pelvis and lower back
  • Persistent and/or unexplained fatigue
  • The need to urinate frequently
  • Unusual changes in bowel habits, including constipation

According to Mayo Clinic, sometimes there are no warning signs of ovarian cancer, especially early on in the disease process.

Additionally, it’s simply not always clear why some women develop ovarian cancer.

Certain risk factors, like age, genetics, and family history (e.g., inheriting the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are also linked to an increased risk of breast cancer), health conditions like endometriosis, and the age at which you started menstruation or menopause, aren’t within your control.  (Interestingly, women who have never been pregnant also appear to have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.)

Still, it’s important to be aware of these risk factors so you can discuss with your healthcare provider the appropriate screening and prevention strategies based on your specific needs.

Plus, there are factors related to lifestyle which doctors agree may increase a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer.  These include being overweight or obese – and, as we’ve potentially learned with this new research, eating lots of ultra-processed foods.

The bottom line: women now have yet another reason to maintain a healthy body weight and make sure the bulk of their diets are comprised of minimally processed whole foods, including plenty of fruits and veggies.

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