Can our food choices prevent cancers of the breast, ovary, and endometrium?

Dr Suzanne Dixon-Suen is investigating the role of diet in the risk of developing certain cancers.

Almost 3 million women are diagnosed with breast, endometrial, or ovarian cancer each year, making prevention research a priority.

Through her Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, Dr Suzanne Dixon-Suen is exploring whether women’s usual whole diet (their dietary pattern) can influence their risk of developing these hormone-sensitive cancers.

“We’re not sure yet how and to what extent whole diet influences risk of these cancers, because this is an emerging research area,” she said.

Dr Dixon-Suen is using evidence on diet at multiple levels (including reported diet and information on biomarkers and genes) and from multiple studies (large Australian and international prospective cohorts).

“In several analyses I will use data from studies which asked women about their usual diet, and then followed them up over many years to see who develops cancers. We can then compare the whole diet of women who did develop cancers with the diet of women who didn’t,” she explained.

“In other analyses I will use data on genetics (diet and cancer related genes), epigenetics (whether these genes are switched on or off), and measured hormone levels to further explore how diet may be linked to cancer development.”

Dr Dixon-Suen said having a clearer understanding of how diet influences future cancer risk may help women make better everyday food choices and be more mindful about the long-term consequences of their diet choices.

“Ultimately this research may lead to a reduced burden from these cancers if any evidence of association can be translated into practice. Over time, there could be a clear avenue to translation via public health messaging around diet choices, coupled with risk prediction tools and ongoing programs to help women, particularly those at higher risk of cancer, improve their diet.”