Trends in Cancer Prevention Research

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Like last year, I created a Google Spreadsheet to query raw publication counts from PubMed of food/nutrition/health terms from an AICR/WCRF report. This is a way to visualize how nutrition and cancer research may be changing over time. The counts represent the number of published articles containing the term in column A plus “cancer” in the title or abstract.

Like last year, I used the following color scheme from the AICR report: the coloring reflects the strongest confidence for an association between the term and a decreased or increased risk for at least one cancer type. Terms with a yellow background were not in the document list and added by me.

The spreadsheet is sorted by column D: the percentage of papers published in 2013 compared to 2012. This will still change as PubMed will be indexing papers published in 2013 for some time, but the spreadsheet auto-updates daily so it will become more accurate over time. Column M shows the average publication count change per year over the last 6 years (2008 to 2013), which may better reflect the recent trend.

Here are a couple graphs showing the top 6 fastest and slowest topic growth (by publication count) from 2008-2012. This shows more long-term trends.

The caveats: if relevant papers do not contain the term (or contain some other variation) in the title or abstract, publication count may not accurately reflect trends. For simplicity, this method does not make a distinction by publication type (eg trials, reviews, etc).

Measures of the relative importance of the work are also not considered (nor do I know how they could be objectively and accurately). However, terms more confidently associated with cancer tend to have higher publication counts, which suggests that this should reflect general research trends.

Colby Vorland, MSc is a nutrition science graduate student. He blogs about various research topics in nutrition at and is on Twitter @nutsci.


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