Last week’s release of our latest report from the Continuous Update Project, on liver cancer, received excellent press coverage, for which we are grateful. We know how tough it can be to bottom-line the sometimes complicated findings from scientific research, and we appreciate the good work of those in the media who do so on a daily basis.
Any reporter will tell you that they write the story, but it’s their editor who writes the headlines. And today, headlines do the heavy lifting of driving web traffic and reader engagement. They are the gatekeepers who determine whether or not you click to get the full story, on skim past to the next headline. Which is why, when they’re misleading, they can do real damage.
That’s because of how the paper was promoted and covered: “MOST CANCERS DUE TO BAD LUCK, NOT PREVENTABLE, STUDY FINDS” screamed one headline. But there’s a sharp disconnect between this paper’s findings and the hype surrounding it.
Here at AICR, we fund and analyze the research showing that a healthy weight, a healthy diet and regular physical activity could prevent hundreds of thousands of U.S. cancers every year. We’re concerned that the oversimplified coverage this study received will reinforce the widespread conviction that cancer “just happens” and cause Americans to throw up their hands and ignore the empowering, evidence-based message that everyday choices play an important protective role in risk for many of the most common cancers.
Joel Mason, MD of Tufts University Medical Center kicked off the opening plenary session of the 2014 AICR Research Conference with a deep dive into one of the most intriguing and – to the public, at least – confusing and even frustrating areas of cancer prevention research.
As scientists learn more about the interplay between diet and cancer risk, it’s clearer than ever that the role of many dietary factors in several cancers is more complex than was once thought.
The entire plenary session of our research conference is focusing on the notion of the “Goldilocks Effect”– the idea that, for several dietary factors, the old idea of “more is better” is flatly wrong. (In scientific circles, this phenomenon is known as the “U-shaped curve,” which describes the graph of dose-response observed as consumption of a given dietary factor increases – from high risk (low consumption) to lower risk (adequate consumption) and back to high risk (high consumption).
Mason spoke on folate as a case in point: Habitually low consumption of folate is associated with higher risk for colorectal and other cancers, as low folate levels increase genomic instability in cells. But in some cases, getting too much folate in the diet has also been linked, in animal models and in some human studies, to increased risk. He stressed, however, that this finding remains controversial, as the evidence for a risk-increasing effect for folate is by no means as consistent as the evidence for its protective role. But until we learn more, he advised that the general population stick to the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation to limit folic acid intake to less than 1000 mcgs/day. Continue reading →