The Mechanisms Research Project

We know that lifestyle choices can affect our cancer risk but we need to know how.

With this in mind, we’ve teamed up with the University of Bristol to increase our understanding of the links between diet, weight, physical activity and cancer.

There is currently no standardised way to review the vast amount of research on the biological processes (or mechanisms) that take place within the body when lifestyle factors affect cancer risk. Now, for the first time ever, we are pioneering a new method of identifying the mechanisms by which lifestyle factors can cause cancer.

This innovative work offers a comprehensive and systematic way to collate and review such research, which should help identify the gaps in knowledge about the mechanisms linking lifestyle factors with cancer, and help direct future research.

What are mechanistic studies?

Mechanistic studies investigate how cancer develops. We know there are links between diet, weight, physical activity and cancer, but we don't always know exactly how they are linked, or by which mechanisms. Understanding these mechanisms helps create a better picture of cancer risk and how cancer could be prevented.

What’s involved?

As part of our Continuous Update Project (CUP) we are developing this groundbreaking new method with Dr Sarah Lewis and Professor Richard Martin from the University of Bristol. 

In addition, WCRF International, Bristol University and the Medical Research Council, have developed a new online tool to automate the process and enable hundreds of thousands of studies to be identified and sifted at the touch of a button. This tool allows researchers to identify mechanistic studies on a specific exposure and outcome - for example on milk and prostate cancer.

Next steps

Two teams of researchers, from Maastricht University and the German Cancer Research Center, are now testing the method and a full validation study is expected to take place next year.