In men with early-stage prostate cancer, a diet rich in zinc may increase their chance of surviving the disease, according to a study presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

For the study, researchers from Harvard School of Public Health identified 525 confirmed prostate cancer cases among men living in Orebro County whose disease was diagnosed from 1989 to 1991. Based on dietary data collected at the time of diagnosis, the research team studied the intake of zinc and fatty acids and noted time to death and whether death was caused by prostate cancer or some other illness. Researchers explained that most of the men in the study ingested dietary zinc through consumption of grains.

Researchers found that men with high zinc intake were 74% less likely to die of prostate cancer than those with the lowest zinc intake. Also reported was a trend indicating that men who consumed high levels of marine omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid were 30% less likely to die of prostate cancer than men who consumed the lowest levels of the fatty acids.

“We did not see a relationship between zinc and mortality or disease-specific mortality except among those patients who were diagnosed with an early stage prostate cancer,” said Mara Meyer, MS, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard School of Public Health.

“The role of diet in cancer is always difficult to study,” said Charles Rabkin, MD, senior investigator in the Infections and Immunoepidemiolgy Branch in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute. “But studies such as this one by Meyer and her colleagues definitely give us some clues to pursue.”