Alina Vrieling

Alina is Assistant Professor in the Department for Health Evidence at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands. Her research focuses on how diet and lifestyle affect bladder and kidney cancer survivorship.

Alina Vrieling, World Cancer Research Fund researcherHow did you get into cancer research?

I worked as a nutrition assistant while I was studying at university in the Netherlands. I saw how patients with cancer were struggling with their eating habits and became intrigued as to how diet can influence the development and progression of cancer.

I was so interested in these areas that I focused my Masters on them and continued my career in both nutrition and cancer research.

What part of your research career are you most proud of?

Together with my team, I have set up one of the very few studies worldwide which follows a group of 1,500 people with bladder cancer.

After a bladder cancer diagnosis, we collect patients’ lifestyle and clinical information so that we can provide evidence-based advice to people living with bladder cancer.

When you were a child what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wasn’t completely sure [but] at the end of high school, it became clear to me that I really wanted to do something with human health.

Bladder Cancer Awareness Month is marked every May in the UK – why are you interested in bladder cancer research?

Non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer, where the muscle layer of the bladder has not yet been reached, is the most common type of bladder cancer.

Patients with non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer have a 50% risk of the cancer returning within 5 years. Often, people ask their doctor if there is anything they can do to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. However, research is still very limited, and I want to do further work in this area.

What causes bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer is among the 10 most common cancers globally and the most important risk factor is smoking.

We have lots of studies now that show a link between our Recommendations and better outcomes, so where does your research fit into that picture?

Most studies to date show a link between the Cancer Prevention Recommendations, cancer risk and the rate of mortality. My team is the first to investigate the association between adherence to the Recommendations and the risk of recurrence in bladder cancer.

> See more of the evidence that our Recommendations work

What is the important message from your research to the public?

We found that patients who best kept to World Cancer Research Fund’s Cancer Prevention Recommendations had a 26% reduced risk of recurrence, compared with patients who kept to fewer Recommendations. I would advise patients with a bladder cancer diagnosis to follow the Cancer Prevention Recommendations, given the beneficial effects of eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.

We’re funding your new research on vitamin D and bladder cancer. Vitamin D appears to be an important vitamin in bladder cancer – why is this?

Vitamin D has properties that protect against cancer by boosting the immune system. It may be less likely that your cancer will return if you have higher vitamin D levels in your blood.

More research needs to be done into the effect of vitamin D on bladder cancer recurrence.

Along with my team, I’ll be studying how levels of vitamin D in the blood, measured at 3 and 15 months after a bladder cancer diagnosis, are related to the likelihood of bladder cancer recurring and the quality of life of patients, through patient surveys. We’ll also study whether these relationships vary among patients with different characteristics, such as lifestyle factors or genetic variations.

> Read more about Anna’s research