“This is a very interesting question but tricky to answer,” says Dr. Penelope Webb, an Australian researcher who in a study published several years ago, found an association between eggs and ovarian cancer. “ A few early studies did suggest that women who ate more eggs had a higher risk of going on to develop ovarian cancer but more recent studies have not confirmed this… , ” she explains. And in fact a comprehensive analysis of 12 epidemiological studies involving more than 500,000 women (2000 plus with ovarian cancer) concluded that there was no statistically significant association.
But here’s the catch: The authors of that large study also state that higher intake of eggs was associated with a slightly higher risk of ovarian cancer, albeit one they deem “nonsignificant.” For those who consumed 1 small egg a day (50g), there was a nonsignificant 11% increase; for those who ate 2 eggs a day, the risk was 22 percent higher, says Dr. Susanna C. Larsson, a Swedish researcher and one of the study’s authors.
Nonsignificant? In the context of the large numbers of women studied, the percentage increase could have been due to chance, she explains.
“When we do studies like this, there are many potential factors to take into account, and it is never possible to be sure that we have exactly the right answer – especially for diet, which is very hard to study because there are so many different foods and people don’t always eat the same things every day/year. This does not mean that it was not a real association – just that it could have arisen by chance,” Webb adds. “Given that other studies have not reported significant associations either, I think this means there is probably no real association (or, if there is, it is probably very weak which is why we cannot see it clearly.)”
Ok, the increase could have been due to chance, but it also could not have been, right?
As a survivor of a slow-growing form of ovarian cancer that tends to keep recurring (I’ve had it twice), I’m still chewing my cud over this one. And I’m in good company: A comprehensive international review of the studies on diet and cancer conducted by a group of well-respected scientists and released in 2007 concluded that there was not enough evidence on eggs and cancer to draw a conclusion.
So let’s do some risk-avoidance therapy and examine the rationales offered for a potential link:
1/ Is it the cholesterol or the fat that’s capable of doing damage? That 2007 study did find some limited evidence linking total fat consumption (but not cholesterol) to breast cancer in postmenopausal (but not premenopausal) women. (See p 139 Dietary fat causes increased estrogen production, and higher estrogen levels post menopause are a known cause of breast cancer, the report says.)
Ok, the solution is easy: Just limit the yolks, where the fat (and cholesterol) reside.
2/ How about pesticides in eggs? Webb’s study in fact explores this possibility at length. Again, the risk-reducing response is easy enough: Buy organic. (And while you’re at, make sure the eggs are high in omega 3 fatty acids. )
Eggs are good sources of protein, so by replacing the carbs we often indulge in at breakfast, eggs could help in the anti-cancer battle. Here’s my compromise position: Make your eggs a vehicle for delivering other healthy foods. Mix a couple of organic egg whites with a bushel of diced onions sautéed in olive oil (and don`t let the oil smoke). Keep your egg intake modest, and once in a while, maybe throw in a yolk.
Risky behavior? It’s better for your anti-cancer lifestyle than eating the mother hen.