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According to an article recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, a low-fat diet does not appear to reduce the overall risk of developing cancer among women. However, a long-term low-fat diet does appear to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.

The role of diet in the risk of development of cancer has been an active area of research. Several studies have indicated that increased consumption of fruit and vegetables decreases the risk of developing certain types of cancers. As well, high consumption of meat, particularly meat grilled at high temperatures, can increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer. In fact, researchers believe that changes in diet alone could significantly reduce both incidence and death rates from cancer in the United States.

Researchers affiliated with the Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification (DM) Randomized Controlled Trial conducted a study to evaluate the effects of dietary fat on the risk of developing chronic disease and cancer. This study included 48,835 postmenopausal women; one group was assigned to diet modification (DM) intervention, while one group continued their usual dietary patterns. DM intervention included a diet containing only 20% of calories from fat. The average follow-up time was 8.1 years.

  • The overall risk of cancer was not significantly reduced among patients in the DM intervention group.
  • The risk of ovarian cancer was reduced in the DM intervention group. The reduced risk did not occur for the first four years while on DM intervention. However, after the first four years, the longer patients remained on DM intervention, the greater their risk of ovarian cancer was reduced.

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The researchers concluded: “A low-fat dietary pattern may reduce the incidence of ovarian cancer among postmenopausal women.” However, the overall risk of cancer was not lowered with a reduction of fat in the diet. Patients may wish to speak with their physician regarding healthy eating habits.

Reference: Prentice R, Thomson C, Caan B, et al. Low-fat dietary pattern and cancer incidence in the Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2007;99: 1534-1543.

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