About the Continuous Update Project

The World Cancer Research Fund network’s flagship global research programme analyses international research on how diet, nutrition and physical activity affect cancer risk and survival.

> Expert Reports
> A new direction
> Future research goals

A globally-trusted resource

This research programme has built up the largest global cancer prevention database in the world, housed at Imperial College, London. It’s the only authoritative scientific resource of its kind, trusted by oncology experts, researchers and health professionals worldwide, and evaluated by an independent panel of leading cancer experts.

The programme contains nearly 10,000 papers on cancer prevention and survival, with contributions from over 140 scientists in more than 17 different countries.

The findings from the programme are then used to update our Cancer Prevention Recommendations, which ensures that everyone – from policymakers to members of the public – has access to the most up-to-date information on how to minimise the risk of developing cancer.

Expert Reports

The Continuous Update Project (CUP) was originally established to answer the critical question of how diet, nutrition and physical activity impact cancer risk.

The CUP research programme was behind the development of our ground-breaking First and Second Expert Reports – published in 1997 and 2007 respectively – which were the first ever comprehensive analyses of the research on diet, nutrition, physical activity and cancer.

They identified many specific foods (such as processed meat) and elements of the human diet (such as alcohol) that increase or decrease the risk of one of more cancer types.

Over the last 10 years, World Cancer Research Fund has continued to collect, analyse and judge the global evidence on how diet, nutrition and physical activity are linked to cancer via this major research programme. This culminated in the Third Expert Report and the Cancer Prevention Recommendations, which were updated in May 2018.

> View the world-renowned panel of experts who evaluated the evidence
> Read our Cancer Prevention Recommendations

A new direction

Over the last three decades the science on how diet, nutrition and physical activity affect the risk of cancer has evolved. This means we’re constantly addressing the new challenges in cancer prevention and survival research.

As the science has evolved, and our understanding of cancer itself has improved, it’s important to consider how to adapt our research programme to address the future challenges in cancer prevention and survival.

New ways of studying the evidence and exploring the risk factors that may influence cancer are in constant development – World Cancer Research Fund intends to stay at the forefront of this research.

Throughout 2020 and 2021, an expert Transition Panel assessed every aspect of the existing programme. Its aim was to identify and prioritise the most compelling research topics for the next phase.

This transition period also enabled us to review:

  • the programme’s overarching philosophy
  • our methods for collecting, analysing and presenting the evidence
  • the processes for deriving conclusions
  • and the overall strategy for dissemination of research outputs.

Future research goals

In moving to a new approach, World Cancer Research Fund International has identified four key areas of research focus for the next four years:

1. Cancer incidence

Reviewing both diet, nutrition, physical activity and cancer incidence will continue to be a core element of the work. But rather than reviewing all exposures for every cancer, we’ll focus on a systematic scan of the evidence.

This will help us to identify which topics are likely to be fruitful areas of detailed study. In addition, the reviews will be more nuanced, with outcomes examined by cancer subtype rather than considering each cancer as a single disease.

There will also be several collaborative projects to expand the work into new areas, including the impact of different dietary and lifestyle patterns and of diet, nutrition and physical activity exposures over the lifecourse.

2. Cancer survivors

We want to focus on the impact of diet, nutrition and physical activity on long term health after a cancer diagnosis. This will begin with a series of reviews for breast cancer, and reviews on colorectal cancer and prostate cancer will follow.

There will also be specific reviews to determine the impact of diet, nutrition and physical activity on children from cancer diagnosis and into adult life. The first review will be on paediatric acute leukaemia.

3. Cancer mechanisms

We aim to develop a clearer understanding of the biological processes which underpin associations between diet, nutrition and physical activity and cancer.

This will be done by reviewing both human and experimental data and will support both the cancer incidence and cancer survivor reviews.

4. Obesity

Obesity was identified as a key risk factor for cancer in the Third Expert Report, increasing the risk of several cancers. This work aims to ensure that our cancer recommendations relating to obesity remain up to date, with the potential to develop more specific recommendations.

With input from an expert panel, this flagship research programme will generate the best possible answers to the most important questions: those related to how diet, nutrition and physical activity affect risk of, and survival from, cancer.

The goal is that these answers will benefit the public, the scientific community, and the World Cancer Research Fund network.