Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Processed Meat Increases Ovarian Cancer Risk

By Stephen Luntz

The consumption of processed meat increases women’s risk of ovarian cancer while consumption of fish reduces it, according to two Australian studies and a meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Ovarian cancer is rare but has a high mortality rate, with 60% of those diagnosed dying within 5 years.

“Our research suggests that women who eat processed meat several times a week have about a 20% higher risk of developing ovarian cancer than women who eat processed meat less than once a week,” says Dr Penny Webb, head of the Gynaecological Cancer Group at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research. “Conversely, it appears that women who eat more poultry and fish may have a 10–15% lower risk of developing ovarian cancer than those who eat less poultry or fish.”

The findings are based on two Australian case-controlled studies conducted 10 years after each other, combined with meta-analysis of many overseas studies. Webb found no correlation between total meat consumption and cancer.

Little is known about the causes of ovarian cancer, and the relationship with diet is still unexplained. “There are many theories, but there is no evidence yet,” says Webb.

“Processed meat contains compounds that could damage cells and thereby cause cancer. On the other hand, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are thought to be good for health in many ways, and may possess anti-cancer properties.”