It has been a year of remarkable progress in cancer prevention research at the American Institute for Cancer Research. Over the years, AICR has made important contributions to advancing our understanding of how lifestyle factors impact cancer risk and this year has been particularly special.
The highlight of AICR’s year came in May with the release of Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Cancer: A Global Perspective, the Third Expert Report. The Expert Reports are the cornerstone of AICR’s and WCRF’s contributions to global cancer prevention research. Each Report (1997, 2007, and now 2018) provides a comprehensive review of the past decade of cancer prevention research. The Third Expert Report is the most comprehensive systematic review to date. Dr. Larry Kushi, Director of Scientific Policy at Kaiser Permanente praised the report for presenting, “state-of-the-art evidence on how food, nutrition, physical activity and body size link with risk of cancer.” He says, “The work done by the WCRF/AICR in reviewing the evidence from epidemiological studies is the most rigorous and outstanding systematic literature review and meta-analysis process that has been developed and implemented.”
The Third Expert Report used the rigorous and transparent Continuous Update Project process that was put in place a decade ago. Data from more than 51 million people, 3.5 million cancer cases and 17 types of cancers meant that the quality of evidence available for review and analysis improved dramatically. Adding to the strength is that the Third Expert Report is based almost exclusively on prospective cohort studies and randomized intervention studies. “Over the course of the three Reports, we have moved from a reductionist approach to cancer research to a much broader perspective which now looks at lifestyle factors, hormonal responses, and lifestyle as a whole, rather than trying to drill down into each tiny component,” said Dr. Nigel Brockton, Director of Research at AICR. The search for a “magic bullet” that characterized the early days of nutritional epidemiology and cancer prevention research has evolved into examining patterns of exposures and their overall impact.
The Third Expert Report provides the strongest evidence to date that modifying what people eat, being more physically active, and having a healthy body weight have a major impact on reducing cancer risk. It provides a blueprint for cancer prevention through Ten Cancer Prevention Recommendations that practitioners can use to help patients and clients take steps toward lower cancer risk.
The Continuous Update Project provided another high impact report to round off 2018 – Diet, Nutrition and Physical Activity: Energy Balance and Body Fatness report presented the latest scientific evidence on factors that are driving the obesity-cancer crisis, including the burgeoning problem of a sedentary lifestyle and excessive screen time in the digital age. This is important and urgent because there is strong scientific evidence that having overweight and obesity cause at least 12 types of cancer. The importance of – and urgency to act on this report can be judged against the fact that CDC reports more than 70 percent of Americans as having overweight or obesity.
These two reports provided bookends to the year’s research, underlining the interrelatedness of behaviors that reduce cancer risk. “People who are physically active tend to have a healthier diet, while people who are not physically active often consume sugar-sweetened drinks alongside fast foods,” said Brockton. Capitalizing on this connectedness, emphasizing a holistic approach to lifestyle changes for individuals and implementing policy innovations to support those changes, will yield the greatest benefits in cancer prevention.
Research is the bedrock of AICR’s mission. We champion the latest and most authoritative scientific research from around the world on cancer prevention and survival through diet, weight and physical activity. Throughout the year, our Cancer Research Updates have highlighted findings from the latest studies illuminating the links between diet and lifestyle factors, and the development of a broad range of cancers, including multiple myeloma and cancers of the breast, prostate, pancreas, and lung, among others. We also reported on studies that showed that certain dietary patterns or preferences, such as energy dense diets, impact cancer risk.
AICR helps people make informed lifestyle choices to reduce their risk of cancer. The findings of the Third Expert Report also provided the basis for AICR’s Cancer Health Check, a new, interactive online tool that helps people make the best choices for their health.
This year’s extraordinary research adds to the compendium of AICR’s previous work and provides the foundation for future directions to create a world where no one develops a preventable cancer.