Ovarian Cancer Risk Linked to Frozen Pizza, Ready-to-Eat Meals and Other “Ultraprocessed” Foods: Study

Researchers found the more ultraprocessed food one eats, the higher their risk of cancer, particularly ovarian cancer risks in women

New research raises additional concerns about the long-term health risks associated with ultraprocessed foods, such as French fries, prepackaged soups and frozen pizza, indicating that eating the foods may increase the risk of ovarian cancer and other cancers.

Ultraprocessed foods are a part of nearly every American’s diet. However, British researchers report that the more ultraprocessed foods one eats, the higher their risk of a cancer in general, but women specifically face a higher rate of ovarian cancer as a result. The findings were published on January 31, in the journal eClinicalMedicine, a journal of the Lancet Discovery Science.

The researchers conducted a study using data from the UK Biobank, a large biomedical database, and research resources which followed residents from 2006 to 2010. The study included participants ages 40 to 69 years old who completed 24-hour dietary recalls between 2009 and 2012. The study included more than 197,000 participants, more than half of whom were women, who were followed up until January 2021.

The food consumed by participants was categorized according to the degree of food processing, using the NOVA food classification system. Eating patterns were compared with medical records that listed both diagnoses and deaths from cancer.

The study also focused on the association between ultraprocessed foods and the association with 34 different types of cancer across 10 years.

The amount of ultraprocessed foods consumed by participants ranged from 9% to 41.5% of their diet. On average, one-quarter of participants’ total diet was made up of ultraprocessed foods.

Overall, during the study 16,000 participants developed cancer and 4,000 deaths occurred among participants.

For every 10% increase in processed food consumption, there was a 6% increase in the incidence of overall occurrence of cancer and a 30% increase in the incidence of ovarian and breast cancer-related deaths.

Ovarian cancer is ranked fifth among the leading causes of cancer. However, people who ate the most processed foods were younger and less likely to have a family history of cancer.

Ultraprocessed Food Health Risks

Ultraprocessed foods are made with industrial ingredients and include food additives, as well as artificial colors and flavors used to extend shelf life. Prior research suggests human bodies may not be equipped to process the artificial additives in ultraprocessed foods.

Overall, people who consume more ultraprocessed foods also consume other unhealthy foods. Research suggests people who consume more ultraprocessed foods also consume more carbonated sodas, coffee, and fewer vegetables.

Research indicates consuming ultraprocessed foods may speed up cognitive decline and irritable bowel syndrome.

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People who consumed the most ultraprocessed foods were also less likely to do physical activity and more likely to be considered obese. They were also more likely to have a lower household income and socioeconomic status.

The findings of a 2021 study indicated two-thirds of children’s diets in the United States are made up of ultraprocessed foods. Eating a diet high in prepackaged, ultraprocessed foods increased the risk of early death from any cause by more than 60%, another previous study found.

Ultraprocessed foods are more readily available in low-income neighborhoods and greatly reduce the health status of the population in those areas, researchers noted, indicating a focus on improved health diets is important in low-income neighborhoods and beyond.

“Our study provides the first most comprehensive assessment for the prospective associations between ultra-processed food consumption and risk of overall and 34 site-specific cancer incidence and associated mortality,” the researchers wrote. “Our findings show that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with a greater risk of overall cancer and specifically ovarian and brain cancer, as well as increased risk of overall, ovarian, and breast cancer-associated mortality.”


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