AICR Taps Three Prestigious US Research Centers To Begin Gathering Data for World's Most Comprehensive Diet-Cancer Report

American Institute for Cancer Research
Monday, 12 April 2004

Researchers at the Pennsylvania State University in State College, PA, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, and Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, CA, have begun to sort through the enormous amount of scientific evidence relating to the effect of food, nutrition and physical activity on cancer. At the behest of the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) working as a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF International), researchers at the three US institutions together with four other research centers in the UK and mainland Europe are now conducting independent literature searches using a single, systematic and transparent methodology.

"The goal is to cut through the widespread confusion about diet's relation to cancer risk by producing a comprehensive report that offers simple, specific, science-based recommendations for both individuals and policy makers," said Kelly Browning, AICR Vice President.

"The public generally hears about this issue one study at a time," Browning said. "And when a new study makes headlines because it seems to contradict or complicate previous results, it's easy for people to grow confused, frustrated, even apathetic. That's why we're asking these leading research centers to help us take a step back and look at the evidence at all of the evidence from a truly global perspective."

Each of the seven research centers will work independently to produce systematic literature reviews (SLRs) that gather and evaluate evidence using a uniform methodology supplied by WCRF International. The different review centers will gather evidence for different kinds of cancer.

At the Pennsylvania State University, researchers have received a grant to review evidence that has linked food, nutrition and physical activity to cancers of the mouth, larynx, pharynx and esophagus. At Johns Hopkins University, grantees will confine their search to cancers of the lung and nasopharynx. At Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California, grantees performed a test of the methodology that the other centers will use. This test was conducted by searching for literature on food, nutrition and physical activity and cancers of the endometrium.

The US centers join review centers at the University of Leeds, UK (pancreas and stomach), University of Bristol, UK (bladder, prostate, kidney and others) Wageningen University, the Netherlands (colon, rectum, liver and gallbladder) and the National Cancer Institute of Milan, Italy (breast, ovary and cervix.)

The researchers at each center will work with a review coordinator to ensure that the process is as uniform as possible. The centers will use a portfolio approach to the evidence, which strives to give equal weight to each of the different kinds of scientific study used to study cancer.

WCRF International chose a portfolio approach for this task because they believe it is best equipped to studying the issue of cancer prevention. Other methods of collecting and evaluating scientific data use rigid hierarchies of evidence. (A common evidence hierarchy dictates that evidence from randomized controlled trials should supersede "lesser" evidence from cohort studies, case-control studies, and other sources.)

According to the cancer experts at AICR and WCRF International, however, such a hierarchy is useful for studying the treatment of chronic disease, but is too narrowly focused to provide meaningful insight into how chronic disease is caused, or how it can best be prevented. Use of a portfolio approach expressly acknowledges that each kind of study has specific strengths and weaknesses, and allows researchers a more comprehensive overview of how the evidence is shaping up.

The task of the research centers is to gather evidence using such a portfolio approach and place it in a standard format called a systematic literature review, or SLR. Ultimately, these SLRs will be submitted to a separate, independent panel of 21 internationally known experts chosen WCRF/AICR. Six observers from the United Nations and other international health organizations will also participate.

It will be up to this panel to assess the evidence, draw conclusions and issue a series of recommendations that apply to individuals and to shapers of public health policy throughout the world. They will publish their findings in the second WCRF/AICR Report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. Publication is currently scheduled for late 2006.

Until that time the previous report, published in 1997, represents the best advice currently available for lowering cancer risk. Its conclusions are widely used by governments and official agencies to help shape international and national cancer control efforts, and by universities, health professionals, and individuals around the globe.

The 1997 report received worldwide attention by estimating that between 30 to 40 percent of all cases of cancer are preventable by making small changes in diet and physical activity. These changes include diets rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans, getting regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting consumption of alcohol and avoiding tobacco.

For more information, or to contact American Institute for Cancer Research, see their website at:

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