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April 8, 2020 | 5 minute read

Understanding the AICR/WCRF Third Expert Report

The AICR/WCRF Third Expert Report was released almost two years ago, but its relevance and impact have continued to grow. The Third Expert Report has become the benchmark for assessing lifestyle factors in cancer. It is an essential reference manual for academics, and acts as an authoritative resource for public health policy. The Report has also catalyzed the emergence of standardized methods for scoring the overall impact of adherence to the Cancer Prevention Recommendations on cancer risk and outcomes after a cancer diagnosis.

“The Third Expert Report sets a new standard of excellence for public health recommendations,” says Dr. Steven K. Clinton, Director of Genitourinary Oncology at Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Dr. Clinton is a physician-scientist and an oncologist specializing in prostate cancer treatment. He is also a member of the independent panel of experts evaluating and interpreting the scientific evidence for AICR’s Continuous Update Project.

Why is this report such a big deal?

The Third Expert Report provides the most comprehensive analysis of the global research on lifestyle choices and cancer prevention. If you’ve ever been frustrated by the seemingly ever-changing headlines declaring the dangers or benefits attributed to particular foods, activities or lifestyle choices, this report distinguishes the evidence from opinions. By synthesizing, analyzing and interpreting the global research evidence, the Third Expert Report provides both the global consensus on the extent of risk/benefit and the strength of the evidence.

This is not just a report for health professionals and academics. As Dr. Clinton says, the report will be useful to anyone interested in cancer prevention, including:

  • Individuals looking to reduce their risk of cancer or live well after a diagnosis
  • Medical and health professionals, by providing reliable, up-to-date information on preventing and surviving cancer to share with patients.
  • Policymakers, when setting public health goals and implementing effective policies that prioritize cancer prevention
  • Researchers, when designing future studies
  • The media, by presenting authoritative and trusted information on cancer prevention

The findings from this ongoing review represent state-of-the-art evidence relating to food, nutrition, physical activity and body size with risk of cancer.

The research reviews and recommendations in previous AICR/WCRF Expert Reports (1997 & 2007) stood as the gold standard references for the following decades. These reports have supported many research and policy initiatives, including the drafting of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and other cancer organizations’ reports on nutrition and physical activity. The Third Expert Report has already informed important policy initiatives, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2020-2025).

Why do so many groups refer to the AICR/WCRF Report as the gold standard?

There are a lot of great reviews and analyses on individual topics, but putting these in the context of the whole picture of peoples’ complex lifestyles demands that a comprehensive review be made of all of these factors. Only then can the most important factors be identified, and the most meaningful conclusions reached. Dr. Larry Kushi, Director of Scientific Policy at Kaiser Permanente, says, “The work done by WCRF and AICR of reviewing the evidence from epidemiologic studies is the most rigorous and outstanding systematic literature review and meta-analysis process that has been developed and implemented in just about any topic area worldwide. The findings from this ongoing review represent state-of-the-art evidence relating food, nutrition, physical activity and body size with risk of cancer.”

What does the report mean for cancer survivors?

The Third Expert Report recommends that once cancer survivors complete their initial treatment, they should follow its Cancer Prevention Recommendations if they can, unless advised otherwise by their personal healthcare provider.

Cancer survivors represent a diverse group with different types and stages of cancer who are undergoing different treatments. Some cancer patients can follow the Cancer Prevention Recommendations from the time of diagnosis, while others may be better advised to wait until after the completion of their cancer treatments.

Members of the Expert panel who reviewed the report, note that it is possible that eating habits that help prevent cancer may not be the same habits that would promote best possible outcomes for people who do develop cancers. There is growing evidence that physical activity may bring multiple benefits for cancer survivors, and considerable research is underway to identify dietary habits that make the biggest difference to short-term and long-term health.

Who is this report for?

People everywhere who want to reduce their risk of cancer, but find themselves confused by conflicting headlines, can count on the recommendations in the Third Expert Report for steps that can make a difference in their risk. This report emphasizes that sustainable shifts in overall lifestyle, not necessarily “perfection,” are the key to reducing cancer risk and that is a truly empowering message.

Health professionals can rely on the recommendations to provide clarity in prioritizing choices for their patients about reducing cancer risk. And having complete, transparent access to the analyses of research will enable them to address patient questions about choices not identified in the recommendations.

Researchers can turn to the report to identify gaps in current research that need to be addressed. The research data in the report is already shaping how research is conducted and reported.

Policy makers, public health organizations, schools and workplace wellness programs can use this report as the foundation on which to base their program goals and strategies. The report provides the framework for identifying priorities for attention.

With the goals set, these groups have the task of carrying the baton through education and improving safe and affordable access to healthy options for physical activity and diet. We all need to come together to help people put the science-based recommendations in this report into action to reduce the cancer burden in our country.

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