Dairy and Ovarian Cancer
Do dairy products increase a woman's risk for ovarian cancer and are they safe to consume for women with a history of ovarian cancer?
There is agreement amongst healthcare professionals that diet and cancer are closely linked. We know that eating a plant-based diet can help reduce a person's risk for cancer. The challenge lies in knowing which foods are most important in affecting or reducing a person's cancer risk. There aren't many foods that have generated as much controversy as dairy. For years the question regarding the link between dairy and ovarian cancer has been difficult to answer and the conflicting research has provided little direction on what the public should do.
Weighing the Evidence
Does dairy increase or decrease the risk? There is no clear answer
Two studies conducted in 2012, have shown conflicting associations for individual dairy products (1,2). A 2002 study showed a reduced rate of ovarian cancer in women who consumed low fat milk (3).Over the years numerous studies have shown there was no association, positive or negative, with dairy intake and ovarian cancer(4,5).
What does this mean?
The jury is still out regarding the link between dairy and ovarian cancer. All studies indicated more research is needed to be done to confirm the associations that were observed, resolve the conflicting data, and gain further understanding of the mechanisms behind the observations.
Until we have a clearer picture regarding dairy and ovarian cancer, here are some practical and reasonable recommendations to consider until there is more clarity on this issue.
- If you decide to include dairy in your diet, choose low-fat or fat-free options most often.
- Be sure to achieve an adequate amount of calcium in your diet; think about including some plant-based sources to help meet your needs. Include dark green vegetables like kale, broccoli, Swiss chard, spinach, collard greens, and mustard greens, legumes, nuts, and calcium-fortified orange juice.
- Seek guidance from a registered dietitian if you choose to limit or avoid dairy products. It is recommended that you receive an individualized consultation from the registered dietitian (RD) in your cancer center to receive guidance on alternative ways of achieving the important nutrients and dietary components that dairy products provide such as: probiotics, calcium, vitamin D, protein, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
Here is what we do know regarding ovarian cancer
Known Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors
- Family history of cancer: Women who have a mother, daughter, or sister with ovarian cancer have an increased risk of the disease. Also, women with a family history of cancer of the breast, uterus, colon, or rectum may also have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
- Personal history of cancer: Women who have had cancer of the breast, uterus, colon, or rectum have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
- Age over 55: Ovarian cancer rates increase with age. Most women are over age 55 when diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
- Never pregnant: Older women who have never been pregnant have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
- Menopausal Hormonal Therapy: Some studies have suggested that women who take estrogen by itself (estrogen without progesterone) for 10 or more years may have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Scientists have also studied whether taking certain fertility drugs, using talcum powder, or being obese are risk factors. It is not clear whether these are risk factors, but if they are, they are not strong risk factors.
Having a risk factor does not mean that a woman will get ovarian cancer. In fact, most women who have risk factors from the list above do not develop ovarian cancer. In addition, women who do develop ovarian cancer often have no known risk factors, except that they are older than 55. Women who think they may be at risk of ovarian cancer should talk with their doctor.
The original question and answer were generously donated by Diana Dyer, MS, RD a cancer survivor, registered dietitian, organic garlic farmer, and the author of "A Dietitian's Cancer Story: Information & Inspiration for Recovery & Healing from a 3-time Cancer Survivor.
Question and Answer updated by Heidi Scarsella, RD, CSO, LDN, on behalf of the ON DPG
- Faber MT, Jensen A, Sogaard M, et al. Use of dairy products, lactose, and calcium and risk of ovarian cancer - results from a danish case-control study. International Journal of gynecological cancer. 2012; 51:454-64.
- Merrit M, Cramer DW, Vitonis AF,et al. Dairy foods and nutrients in relation to risk of ovarian cancer and major histological subtypes. International Journal of Cancer. 2012.
- Goodman MT, WU AH, Tung KH, et al. Association of dairy products, lactose, and calcium with the risk of ovarian cancer. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2002; 156:148-57.
- Genkinger JM, Hunter DJ, Spiegelman D, et al. Dairy products and ovarian cancer: A pooled analysis of 12 cohort studies. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. 2006; 15:364-72.
- Mommers M, Schouten LJ, Goldbohm RA, et al. Dairy consumption and ovarian cancer risk in the Netherlands Cohort Study on Diet and Cancer. British Journal Cancer. 2006; 94:165-70.
- Larsson SC, Bergkvist L, Wolk A. Milk and lactose intakes and ovarian cancer risk in the Swedish mammography cohort. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004; 80:1353-7. 9
- Larsson SC, Orsini N, Wolk A. Milk, milk products and lactose intake and ovarian cancer risk: A meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. International Journal of Cancer. 2006;118:431-41.
- Qin L-Q, Xu J-Y, Wang P-Y, et al. Milk/dairy products consumption, galactose metabolism and ovarian cancer: meta- analysis of epidemiological studies. European Journal of Cancer Prevention. 2005; 14:13-19.
Page Updated: May 2013