Objective: The etiology of epithelial ovarian cancer is unknown. Prior work suggests that high dietary beta-carotene intake is associated with a decreased risk of this tumor although this association remains speculative. A meta-analysis was performed to evaluate this suspected relationship.
Methods: Using previously described methods, a protocol was developed for a meta-analysis examining the association between high dietary beta-carotene intake versus low intake and the risk of epithelial ovarian cancer. Literature search techniques, study inclusion criteria and statistical procedures were prospectively defined. Data from observational studies were pooled using a general variance based meta-analytic method employing confidence intervals previously described by Greenland. The outcome of interest was a summary relative risk (RRs) reflecting the risk of ovarian cancer associated with high beta-carotene intake versus low dietary intake. Sensitivity analyses were performed when necessary to evaluate any observed statistical heterogeneity.
Results: Five observational studies enrolling 3,782 subjects were initially pooled in a meta-analysis subsequent to an analysis showing a lack of statistical heterogeneity. The meta-analysis showed a summary relative risk of 0.84 with a 95% confidence interval of 0.75-0.94, a statistically significant result. These data suggest that high (versus low) dietary intake of beta-carotene is associated with a sixteen percent decrease in ovarian cancer risk. Sensitivity analyses showed no impact of study design or differences in quantitative measure of beta-carotene intake across studies on the summary relative risk.
Conclusions: High dietary intake of beta-carotene appears to represent a protective factor for the development of ovarian cancer although its magnitude is modest. Further work is needed to clarify factors that may modify the effects of beta-carotene in vivo.