September heralds Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, a time to reflect on how to treat and prevent the deadliest female reproductive cancer. Of the roughly 20,000 American women diagnosed annually with the disease, a tragic 55% don’t survive beyond five years. Recently, however, researchers uncovered encouraging evidence pointing to the profound power of produce to dramatically impact survival prospects.

A study from the University of Illinois at Chicago looked at data from 351 ovarian cancer patients — comparing dietary patterns up to five years prior to diagnosis with length of survival time after diagnosis. The data garnered from food frequency questionnaires included everything from fruit and vegetables to meat and dairy to fats and sweets. The upshot: Women who ate the most fruit and vegetables before diagnosis were 39% more likely to enjoy a longer life. Vegetables on their own, particularly yellow and cruciferous veggies, showed a similar benefit. Diets high in red meat, by contrast, made it twice as likely to cut down your survival time.

Previous research has singled out particular fruit and vegetables as especially beneficial. Cabbage, for example, contains compounds demonstrated to lower the risk of ovarian and other estrogen related cancers. Pumpkin is a top source of beta-carotene and alpha-carotene, two carotenoids that help combat ovarian cancer. Additionally, higher intakes of vitamin D were found to yield a 30% reduced risk of ovarian cancer; whole-food sources include canned salmon and sardines. Overall, fruit and vegetables help keep weight under control, providing additional protection, as excess pounds negatively affect both the risk and survival rates of hormonal cancers.

 Published September 1, 2010