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Genetic factor affecting dairy products linked to ovarian cancer.


An estimated 20,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in this country in 1989. A recent study of 272 women diagnosed as having ovarian cancer suggests that consumption of certain dairy products by susceptible individuals may predispose them to develop the cancer. The researchers from Harvard Medical School indicate that although their findings are not conclusive, there is reason for concern. "We have found that women with ovarian cancer used dairy products with a higher content of prehydrolysed lactose--i.e., yogurt and cottage cheese--more often than control women and had lower concentration of a key enzyme that converts galactose to glucose," says Dr. Daniel W. Cramer and his associates.

Lack of the enzyme galactose-1-phosphate uridyltransferase causes an increased amount of galactose in the circulating blood (known as galactosemia). This excess galactose appears to be toxic to the human ovaries. Ordinarily, galactose develops in the small intestine when people consume dairy products containing lactose, primarily milk. Both yogurt and cottage cheese contain galactose prior to ingestion into the human body because their production requires bacteria that partially digest lactose.

Blood tests measuring enzyme activity, conducted by the researchers, demonstrated that women with ovarian cancer were likely to be deficient in their abilities to break down the galactose into glucose, the end product of carbohydrate metabolism that can then be used by the body as a nutrient. It appeared that women who consumed more of the dairy products than they could metabolize due to the enzyme deficiency had the greatest potential for developing ovarian cancer.

The investigators indicate that their findings require further research before any dietary recommendations can be made. At this time, it is not recommended that women entirely eliminate their intakes of yogurt or cottage cheese. (Lancet, July 8, 1989; II:66.)
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Publication:Medical Update
Date:Sep 1, 1989
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