Alan Jackson is a Professor at the University of Southampton and Chair of our Continuous Update Project expert panel.
Virtually everybody has been touched, directly or indirectly, by cancer. The individual who has cancer will often ask, “what can I do to help myself?”. In order to answer this question, people frequently turn to their doctor or health provider for a clear answer – but a clear answer is rarely available because much of medicine is related to what we do to people rather than how we help them to help themselves. Why does this remain so?
Why don’t we prioritise nutrition?
Large sums of money and a great deal of effort are invested in the discovery and development of drugs and therapeutic treatments for cancer, with an increasing interest in strengthening the immune process and personalised medicine. However, one of the most important variables that remains unaddressed, yet has a huge influence, is the nutritional environment which encourages a cell to become cancerous and spread throughout the body. Cancer and nutrition enjoy a close interaction as all cells require energy and nutrients to grow and multiply. In addition, the body’s response to cancer is dependent upon the nutritional micro-environment in which the cancer is able to thrive.
We know a great deal about nutrition and we know a great deal about cancer. By comparison we have very little knowledge or understanding about how the two interact. There is no one individual or group who can claim to have command of knowledge and skill across the entire spectrum sufficient to pull the threads together. Therefore, there is the need for an interactive framework which will enable both sides to contribute and learn from the shared experience.
Through the establishment of organised collaborative efforts on nutrition and cancer, the first step has been taken in that direction, where groups from both the nutrition and cancer fields can better harmonise their respective efforts. The work of doctors and others who work in cancer treatment would be improved if they had a clearer grasp of nutrition, and this in turn would provide much greater insights around how diet, nutrition and physical activity can affect cancer. Bridging this gap and encouraging the interaction is critical.
Collaboration for success
If we can get this right and make it work for the benefit of all, there are great opportunities for improving health both through more effective prevention and improved care on an individual basis.
Here, we have the opportunity to pool both our knowledge and understanding across a complex landscape and a diverse community of scientists and healthcare providers. This would enable better engagement with the wider public to help them to ensure more effective cancer prevention in all parts of the world, assess available treatments and to know how and when nutritional factors can change the response and ultimate outcome for this very common condition.
Read our statement (pdf)