Can nutrition help prevent cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting women: almost half a million get diagnosed every year around the world, an incidence rate second only to breast cancer¹.
High-risk HPV (human papillomavirus) infections are responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer. Therefore, substantial research is being conducted on women with such infections, in order to investigate the possible cofactors behind cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) or cervical cancer2.
Research findings on nutrients and cervical cancer
Numerous studies have attempted to identify a correlation between nutritional elements (such as micronutrients), and increased risk of CIN and cervical cancer.
Findings suggest that high consumption of fruit and vegetables appears to be protective against CIN. The preventive effects are due to vitamins and antioxidants3 through modification of our immune system4.
Another study focused on serum anti-oxidant nutrients, showing that they may influence the evolution of HPV infections6. The nutrients researched belong to the following families:
- retinols (a source of vitamin A contained in foods of animal origin: liver, eggs, dairy)
- carotenoids (mostly found in carrots, tomatoes and apricots)
- tocopherols (primarily contained in vegetable oils).
In a 2007 study, a correlation between folate and cervical cancer prevention was found2. Folate is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9, and is found in a variety of foods including dark green vegetables with leaves (like spinach, asparagus and Brussels sprouts), as well as in some fruits, poultry and meats.
Another study among 453 women5 associated increased concentrations of serum alpha- and gamma-tocopherols, higher dietary intakes of dark green and deep yellow vegetables/fruits with nearly 50% decreased risk of CIN3 (high-grade CIN).
Risk reduction is the key
No specific and adequate evidence exists to prove that diet can prevent cervical cancer. However, nutritional status seems to be an important cofactor affecting both HPV persistence and progression of HPV infections to cervical intraepithelial neoplasia6.
We can aspire to reduce the risk of cervical cancer by maintaining a well balanced-diet.
Here are some tips on caring for your diet:
- Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits and dark-green and deep-yellow vegetables.
- Eat plenty of high-fiber foods, like whole-grain breads and cereals.
- Prefer lean meat and low fat dairy
- Avoid or minimize consumption of processed foods
- Keep your alcohol consumption low
- Franco EL, Schlecht NF, Saslow D. The epidemiology of cervical cancer. Cancer J. 2003 Sep-Oct;9(5):348-59.
- Piyathilake CJ. Update on micronutrients and cervical dysplasia. Ethn Dis. 2007 Spring;17(2 Suppl 2):S2-14-7.
- Myung SK, Ju W, Kim SC, Kim H; Korean Meta-analysis (KORMA) Study Group. Vitamin or antioxidant intake (or serum level) and risk of cervical neoplasm: a meta-analysis. BJOG. 2011 Oct;118(11):1285-91. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2011.03032.x. Epub 2011 Jul 12.
- Chih HJ, Lee AH, Colville L, Binns CW, Xu D. A review of dietary prevention of human papillomavirus-related infection of the cervix and cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. Nutr Cancer. 2013;65(3):317-28. doi: 10.1080/01635581.2013.757630.
- Tomita LY, Longatto Filho A, Costa MC, Andreoli MA, Villa LL, Franco EL, Cardoso MA; Brazilian Investigation into Nutrition and Cervical Cancer Prevention (BRINCA) Study Team. Diet and serum micronutrients in relation to cervical neoplasia and cancer among low-income Brazilian women. Int J Cancer. 2010 Feb 1;126(3):703-14. doi: 10.1002/ijc.24793.
- Erin M. Siegel,1 Neal E. Craft,2 Eliane Duarte-Franco,3 Luisa L. Villa,4 Eduardo L. Franco,3,5 and Anna R. Giuliano. Associations between serum carotenoids and tocopherols and type-specific HPV persistence: The Ludwig-McGill cohort study. Int J Cancer. 2007 February 1; 120(3): 672–680.