Sun, Diet and Ovarian Cancer in African-American Women

High calcium, low lactose diets–plus sun exposure–may reduce ovarian cancer risk in African-American women.

2017 Ovarian Cancer Awareness banner: 08-May-2017Ovarian cancer is particularly problematic for African-American women in the US, but there’s some good news.

Researchers at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey found a diet high in calcium but low in lactose may reduce ovarian cancer risk in African-American women.

The National Cancer Institute reports that ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths for US women. Five-year survival rates for Caucasian women have improved over the last forty years, but have decreased for African-American women.

“Considering there is no effective screening tool for ovarian cancer and that African-American patients have poor survival rates with this disease, prevention through lifestyle or dietary modifications is critical,” senior author Elisa Bandera, MD, PhD, said in a press release.

Dr. Bandera is a professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a professor of epidemiology at Rutgers School of Public Health. She is also the co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute.

Dr. Bandera and her team studied African-American women between the ages of 20 to 79 who were participants in the African-American Cancer Epidemiology Study. Researchers selected 490 patients who self-reported as having ovarian cancer and 656 healthy control subjects.

The women completed lifestyle questionnaires that included information about dairy consumption and sun exposure as well as other data.

Dr. Bandera and colleagues found African-American women who had a high intake of lactose and whole milk had an increased risk of ovarian cancer. They also found that calcium intake from any source, include food and supplements, was associated with a decreased risk of the disease.

The study also showed that increased sun exposure may reduce ovarian cancer risk in African-American women, who need about twice the amount of time in the sun that Caucasian women do for vitamin D production.

“Given that we were able to recruit a large sample of healthy African-American women and those with ovarian cancer from various geographic regions with diverse socioeconomic and lifestyle characteristics, we are able to generalize our findings to the African-American population,” Dr. Bandera said in the press release.

The study was published in the September issue of the British Journal of Cancer.

The study was supported by the New Jersey Commission on Cancer Research and the National Cancer Institute.

Information on conflict of interest was not available.

British Journal of Cancer, “Dairy, calcium, vitamin D and ovarian cancer risk in African–American women”
Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, “High-Calcium, Low-Lactose Diet May Reduce Risk of Ovarian Cancer in African-American Women”
Written by: Beth Greenwood, RN | Medically reviewed by: Dr. Robert Carlson, M.D.