Dietary and Circulating Fatty Acids and Ovarian Cancer Risk in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition

Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2020 Sep;29(9):1739-1749. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-19-1477. Epub 2020 Jul 2.


Background: Fatty acids impact obesity, estrogens, and inflammation, which are risk factors for ovarian cancer. Few epidemiologic studies have investigated the association of fatty acids with ovarian cancer.

Methods: Within the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), 1,486 incident ovarian cancer cases were identified. Cox proportional hazard models with adjustment for ovarian cancer risk factors were used to estimate HRs of ovarian cancer across quintiles of intake of fatty acids. False discovery rate was computed to control for multiple testing. Multivariable conditional logistic regression models were used to estimate ORs of ovarian cancer across tertiles of plasma fatty acids among 633 cases and two matched controls in a nested case-control analysis.

Results: A positive association was found between ovarian cancer and intake of industrial trans elaidic acid [HR comparing fifth with first quintileQ5-Q1 = 1.29; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.03-1.62; P trend = 0.02, q-value = 0.06]. Dietary intakes of n-6 linoleic acid (HRQ5-Q1 = 1.10; 95% CI = 1.01-1.21; P trend = 0.03) and n-3 α-linolenic acid (HRQ5-Q1 = 1.18; 95% CI = 1.05-1.34; P trend = 0.007) from deep-frying fats were also positively associated with ovarian cancer. Suggestive associations were reported for circulating elaidic (OR comparing third with first tertileT3-T1 = 1.39; 95% CI = 0.99-1.94; P trend = 0.06) and α-linolenic acids (ORT3-T1 = 1.30; 95% CI = 0.98-1.72; P trend = 0.06).

Conclusions: Our results suggest that higher intakes and circulating levels of industrial trans elaidic acid, and higher intakes of linoleic acid and α-linolenic acid from deep-frying fat, may be associated with greater risk of ovarian cancer.

Impact: If causal, eliminating industrial trans-fatty acids could offer a straightforward public health action for reducing ovarian cancer risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Ovarian Epithelial / etiology*
  • Carcinoma, Ovarian Epithelial / physiopathology
  • Diet / adverse effects*
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Nutrition Assessment
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors


  • Fatty Acids