As the science of cancer evolves, so too does our research

12 July 2019 | Cancer research

Kate AllenDr Kate Allen, our Executive Director of Science & Public Affairs, explains how the Continuous Update Project (CUP) is changing.

The CUP is a critical part of our work and ambition to better understand the relationship between diet, nutrition, physical activity and cancer. It builds on our First and Second Expert Reports, published in 1997 and 2007, respectively.

The current phase of the CUP culminated with the launch in May 2018 of the Third Expert Report, Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective. Our updated Cancer Prevention Recommendations, which are the core of the report, constitute a package of healthy lifestyle choices that together can make a significant impact on reducing cancer risk. In fact, around 40 per cent of cancers could be prevented if we all lived healthy lifestyles, which includes maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and eating a healthy diet.

This could not be more important at a time when cancer cases are predicted to increase from 17 million to 30 million by 2040. Much of the cancer burden falls in low- and middle-income countries that are least equipped to deal with it. Prevention is therefore key.

Why is the CUP so important?

At its heart the CUP is an analytical engine, capturing all relevant data published around the world on how food, nutrition and physical activity affect risk of cancer. There has been a massive acceleration in research in this area; for example, as much research has been published in the last five years on breast cancer risk as in the previous 50 years. The CUP enables us to keep on top of all this information, to synthesise and analyse it in order to make sure that all evidence is considered together, through the judgement of an Expert Panel, to give a complete picture.

The Recommendations updated in May 2018 are very securely based in the evidence. They are similar, but not identical, to those from 2007 and 1997 and a large body of evidence now exists showing that people who follow a dietary pattern close to the Recommendations have a lower risk not just of cancer but other non-communicable diseases too.

What does the future of the CUP look like?

The CUP is now embarking on an exciting new journey, which we are calling the CUP Transition, to ensure it continues to deliver and add value and knowledge to the field of cancer and nutrition. The navigation of that journey starts this week with a three-day meeting in London bringing together a panel of experts to form the CUP Transition Panel. The panel consists of both old faces, who have worked with us on the CUP before, and those new to the project.

The Panel will be considering some important questions:

  • How can people who have already been diagnosed with cancer improve their quality of life and reduce their chances of a recurrence?
  • How can we better understand the underlying biological mechanisms involved in modifying cancer risk?
  • What are the factors that account for variability in risk and how might these inform a more personalised approach?
  • How can the epidemiology be better linked with genetics?
  • What is the role of omics in the CUP?
  • How can the CUP achieve better integration of data across the life course and other important areas?
  • How can we best achieve truly global representation of data within the CUP?

All these questions and more have come out of the existing CUP process and they will certainly not all be answered this week. But the first steps in the journey towards the “new” CUP will have been taken, ultimately enabling a better and more nuanced understanding of how diet, nutrition and physical activity together influence and modify cancer risk.

Dr Kate Allen | 12 July 2019

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