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Red wine and ovarian cancer

Scientists at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) have determined that moderate wine intake may reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.

In this large study (published in Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention2004 Apr;13(4):592-9) of 696 women with confirmed epithelial ovarian cancer and 786 cancer-free control women, consumption of any alcohol was associated with a reduced risk of ovarian cancer. Even an average consumption of less than one standard drink per week was associated with a 20% reduction in risk of ovarian cancer.

Women who reported an average consumption of around 25 g/day of alcohol (2 standard drinks) had about half the risk of ovarian cancer compared with non-drinkers.

“Our finding was slightly surprising, given that it is now generally accepted that drinking alcohol increases a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer. The link between breast cancer and alcohol consumption is not clear, although it may partly be due to the effect of alcohol on sex hormones,” said QIMR’s Dr Penny Webb. “Our study aimed to determine whether alcohol consumption also influenced the risk of ovarian cancer.”

The QIMR study is one of only a few to evaluate the effects of different types of alcohol. It also examined all published data that comprehensively examined the association between alcohol consumption and risk of ovarian cancer. When intake of different types of alcohol was examined, wine drinkers had a lower risk of ovarian cancer than both self-reported nondrinkers and women who reported only drinking beer or spirits. Red wine consumption in particular conferred the most protection, with women who consume more than one glass of red wine per day being almost seven times less likely to develop ovarian cancer than women who never drank alcohol.

“The apparent reduction in risk associated only with wine intake and not other types of alcohol suggests that the protective effect may be due to something other than the alcohol in the wine. It is possible that the high levels of antioxidants and phytoestrogens found in wine (from the grapes and grapeskins) could reduce the risk of ovarian cancer,” said Dr Webb.

QIMR is now involved in Australia’s largest study of ovarian cancer (the Australian Ovarian Cancer Study) where, amongst other things, scientists will further examine lifestyle and dietary factors in 2,000 women with ovarian cancer and 2,000 women without cancer from all parts of Australia.

Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer occurring in women, and continues to be the leading cause of death among Australian women who develop a gynaecological malignancy. Approximately 1,200 new cases are diagnosed each year Australia-wide (200-300 in Queensland) and some 700 women die annually (over 100 in Queensland).