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Cancer Prevention: A European Perspective
EPIC Project Provides Insight Into Relationship Between Nutrition, Cancer

By Tristan Blanchard

The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), the largest prospective nutrition study ever undertaken, is yielding key findings about the relationship between nutrition and cancer. Preliminary results indicate that diet patterns including regular consumption of processed meat are associated with a higher risk of colorectal and stomach cancers, while diets high in fish, fiber, fruits and vegetables are associated with a reduction in the risk of these and upper aero-digestive tract cancers.

The EPIC project, sponsored by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, is a result of collaboration among 10 European countries. Begun in 1992, "EPIC currently involves over half a million volunteers for whom we have quite complete questionnaire data on diet, lifestyle and physical activity," said Dr. Elio Riboli, EPIC project coordinator and chief of the IARC unit of nutrition and cancer.

Dr. Elio Riboli, EPIC project coordinator
Riboli presented some preliminary EPIC findings recently during a lecture titled "Cancer Prevention: A European Perspective" on the NIH campus. The talk was featured as the 4th annual Advances in Cancer Prevention Lecture, sponsored by the Division of Cancer Prevention at NCI.

Riboli and colleagues obtained data for the EPIC project that included blood samples, a representative 1-day actual diet analysis, and responses to a diet, lifestyle and physical activity questionnaire. Researchers stored millions of blood samples that will be used to measure a variety of biomarkers of diet, metabolic patterns and exposure to environmental factors.

Riboli was quick to point out that the study of diet is only part of the relationship between lifestyle and cancer. The larger picture indicates that changes in cancer risk can result from obesity, sedentary lifestyle and all related hormonal imbalances. As obesity rates increase throughout the European Union and the rest of the world, associated disease rates may follow. "The projections are absolutely scary," Riboli said.

The EPIC project provides an opportunity to study the role of nutrition and lifestyle on a larger scale than previously conducted. The size of this study will allow researchers to extract data with high statistical power, and allow for the study of uncommon cancers, Riboli said. "This network has been made possible through a major collaboration around Europe through the goodwill of many experts and colleagues, and I'd like to thank all of them, as well as the 517,000 people who gave us this information."

In addition to working on the EPIC project, Riboli is one of four principal investigators of the NCI-sponsored Consortium of Cohorts, which is studying the links between genes, the environment and cancer. He will spend the next few months at NCI as a visiting scientist.

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