It may seem obvious but a healthy balanced diet with plenty of fibre, fruit and vegetables and less red and processed meat and salt can help cut cancer risk. At the World Cancer Research Fund International charity, the first organisation to create awareness of the link between diet and cancer, they help reiterate this message as well as support and fund leading research into cancer prevention. They have achieved this global success through the high-quality work produced by their leaders, including their President Marilyn Gentry who took the time to speak with us to discuss WCRF in more detail.
World Cancer Research Fund International is the world’s leading charity and authority on cancer prevention research related to diet, weight and physical activity. Their vision is to live in a world where no one develops a preventable cancer. To work towards this, they do the following:
- Create awareness of the link between diet and cancer
- Fund research into diet and cancer prevention
- Collate and analyse all the global research on the links between diet, weight, physical activity and cancer, and translate the findings into practical, scientifically-proven recommendations on cancer prevention for use by health professionals, individuals and governments worldwide.
The global research at the World Cancer Research Fund International organisation has shown and estimated that a third of the most common cancers are preventable through a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight and regular physical activity. Using this estimated information, they have created to provide practical help, advice and tips on how people can reduce their risk of developing cancer:
- Body fat – keep weight low within the healthy range
- Physical activity – be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day and sit less
- Food & drinks that promote weight gain – avoid high-calorie foods and sugary drinks
- Plant foods – eat more grains, veg, fruit and beans
- Animal foods – limit red meat and avoid processed meant
- Alcoholic drinks – don’t drink alcohol
- Preservation, processing & preparation – eat less salt and avoid mouldy grains and cereals
- Dietary supplements – don’t rely on supplements
- Breastfeeding – if you can, breastfeed your baby for six months.
To discuss the preventability of cancer and the leading work at World Cancer Research Fund International in more detail, we caught up with their president Marilyn Gentry at Research Features. She outlines how WCRF commission research from leading institutions around the world into the effects of diet, nutrition, body fatness, physical activity on cancer and cancer survival.
Hello Marilyn! What does your role involve as President of World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF)?
As President of World Cancer Research Fund, I provide direction and leadership across our international network of charities to help change people’s attitudes towards preventing cancer through diet, nutrition and physical activity across the world.
Why was WCRF originally founded and what influence has it had since, especially in preventing the worldwide prevalence of cancer?
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, nobody was talking about cancer, let alone talking about the link between nutrition and cancer. The studies that broke through this taboo inspired me, and led me and several others to form the group that eventually founded the World Cancer Research Fund network.
We are proud to be the first organisation to prove the link between cancer, diet and nutrition and raise awareness of these links. Since WCRF was founded in 1982, we have not only put cancer prevention on the map, but we continue to be the leading authority in this field worldwide.
What kind of research do you fund at WCRF? Do you focus on certain cancers specifically, or do you invest in research for all types of cancer?
The research we fund focuses on the effects of diet, nutrition and physical activity on cancer prevention and survival outcomes. Therefore, we focus on various cancers that have shown a link between their risk and lifestyle factors. These cancers are also some of the most common cancers in the world and include: breast, lung, liver and bowel.
From a more personal perspective, what are your main research interests within WCRF?
My family was incredibly health conscious throughout my upbringing in the 1950s, due to my father unfortunately suffering from heart disease. This led to my mother growing her own vegetables and preparing healthy meals. From this experience, I developed my interest in the link between diet and health.
In 2015, WCRF celebrated reaching a £100 million investment in cancer prevention research around the world. How did it feel to reach such a landmark achievement and what have been some of the more recent successes since then?
We have had a huge amount to celebrate over recent years, and reaching the £100 million investment in research was a big highlight for us. It really is quite remarkable to think how much has changed in the field of cancer prevention since we started.
Last year the World Cancer Research Fund network was awarded official relations status with the World Health Organization, which means we are acknowledged as a trusted advisor at the highest level of global public health. This was a great achievement for us as it cements our reputation as the world’s leading authority on the link between diet, weight, physical activity and the prevention of cancer.
WCRF are involved in the organisation, running, and support of many cancer-related campaigns. What impact have these had on spreading WCRF’s messages, especially in terms of preventing cancer?
Our campaigns demonstrate how people can make changes in their everyday life to reduce their cancer risk. We were the first charity to create awareness of the link between diet and cancer and we continue to share this message as we work towards our mission of living in a world free from preventable cancers.
The WCRF website offers a fantastic blog with news and information on how to prevent cancer. What is the significance of this, and how important is it to keep your members and supporters up to date?
When we have an exciting research finding, readers of our blog will be the first to know. The blog allows our supporters to hear directly from our researchers, which allows them to feel connected with the work that they are supporting. Many scientists and policy makers also read our blog to keep up with the latest cancer prevention news. It is important to them that they receive news from a source they can trust, and they know that our blog is always based on the latest robust evidence.
You have dedicated more than 30 years to cancer prevention and have continually provided fantastic strategic direction and leadership to WCRF. What has been your proudest achievement in those 30 years?
My proudest achievement thus far is the creation of our Continuous Update Project (CUP), which analyses thousands of studies on the effect of diet and physical activity on cancer risk, and has changed attitudes worldwide on the link between diet and cancer. It has been a huge breakthrough in getting people to finally take notice of how what we eat affects our cancer risk and how important cancer prevention is. The findings from this project will form our Third Expert Report, a new publication that we are looking forward to launching in January 2018.
Where would you like to see cancer research go from here?
While we are rapidly putting the pieces of the cancer prevention puzzle together, there is still a huge gap in our knowledge about how diet, nutrition and physical activity affect cancer survival. This needs to become the next priority if we are to see cancer survival rates improve.
For more information about World Cancer Research Fund’s work and cancer prevention, please visit their website at www.wcrf.org.
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- WCRF: We are what we eat