Credit: Softpedia

According to new Australian study, women who eat a lot of processed meats like salami and hot dogs are at a higher risk of ovarian cancer.

Dr. Penny M. Webb of Gynaecological Cancers Group at Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane, Australia and her colleagues found, those who eat a lot of fish have lower risk of developing the deadly tumours.

The study published in the American journal of Clinical Nutrition also found no link between red meat and cancer and just a slightly lower risk among women who consumed large amounts of poultry.

This suggests that by following common dietary guidelines to reduce the intake of processed meats and increase the intake of poultry and fish, women may also reduce their risk of ovarian cancer, said Dr Webb and colleagues in the report.

The study re-analyzed data collected from older studies of more than 2,000 women with ovarian cancer and nearly 2,200 without the cancer were asked about their diets.

The researchers found women who ate four or more servings per week of processed meat had an 18 per cent increased risk of ovarian cancer than those who ate one or fewer servings per week.

They also found women who ate four or more fish meals per week had 24 per cent less risk of ovarian cancer than those who ate less than one fish meal per week.

The absolute risk difference however, was small.

In Australia, the risk of developing ovarian cancer before the age of 75 for a woman who eats a lot of processed meat is about 1 per cent, compared to about 0.8 per cent for those who eat little processed meat, said Dr Webb.

According to Marju McCullough of the American Cancer Society, most studies of ovarian cancer risks focus on lifetime exposure to oestrogen, in other words, women who enter puberty early, and go through menopause late, have a higher risk.

McCullough said, Very few dietary risk factors have been identified for this highly fatal cancer.

It is still unclear why processed meats and fish would have any effect on ovarian cancer.

Dr Webb said there are many theories by good evidence is lacking.

Processed meat contains compounds that could damage cells and thereby cause cancer. Conversely, the omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish are thought to be good for health in many ways and may possess anti-cancer properties, said Dr Webb.

McCullough remarked that nitrites and nitrates are present in processed meats, and they can form nitrosamines which cause cancer in animals.

The association we say with processed meat is not that strong, so I do not think that women should immediately stop eating all processed meat to reduce their risk of ovarian cancer, said Dr Webb.

However, we know that there are also other health benefits associated with eating white meat and fish so I think that women should aim for a healthy diet that includes less processed meat and higher levels of poultry and fish.

This will have a number of health benefits and may also lower their risk of ovarian cancer, concluded Dr Webb.

McCullough said there are good reasons to limit red and processed meat consumption to lower risk for colon cancer and heart disease.

It would be wise to limit processed meats to the occasional event, rather than to consume them as part of one's usual diet, said McCullough.