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SCIENTISTS FIND STRONG LINK BETWEEN FAT, OVARIAN CANCER

Scientists have uncovered the first strong evidence that saturated fat, the culprit behind heart disease, also raises the risk of ovarian cancer.

A study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute says women were 20 percent more likely to get ovarian cancer with each 10 daily grams of saturated fat they consumed.The good news: Just two small servings of vegetables a day helped women lower that risk.

"That's fascinating data," said Dr. Daniel Nixon, an expert on nutrition and cancer at the Medical University of South Carolina. "Cancer of the ovary was suspected to be diet-related for a long time but it's been hard to prove."

"We need to do more research," cautioned study author Dr. Harvey Risch of Yale University. But, he said, "If I were female, I might change my diet anyway."

Ovarian cancer strikes 20,000 U.S. women a year and kills about 12,500, mostly because there is no good way to detect it early.

The main risk factor is exposure to the reproductive hormone estrogen. Women who have multiple pregnancies or use oral contraceptives, which both inhibit estrogen, are at lower risk.

Now, the first large study of nutrition and ovarian cancer suggests diet also plays a role.

Risch and colleagues at the University of Toronto compared the eating habits of 450 Canadian women newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer to 540 demographically similar, healthy women.

For every 10 grams of saturated, or animal, fat a woman ate per day, her risk of ovarian cancer rose 20 percent. Conversely, women who lowered their saturated fat consumption by 10 grams a day experienced a 20 percent drop in risk.

The average North American consumes about 30 grams of saturated fat a day from meat, cheese, butter and a variety of other foods.

But every 10 grams of vegetable fiber added to a woman's daily menu lowered her risk of ovarian cancer by 37 percent, it found.

That's a major decrease, Risch notes. Each full-term pregnancy a woman experiences lowers her risk by about 20 percent, and each year of oral contraceptive use lowers it by 5 percent to 10 percent.

Although diet has been implicated in colon and breast cancers, nobody knows just why it would play a big role in a cancer as hormone-dependent as ovarian.