The Unit of Nutrition and Cancer (UNAC) comprises a multidisciplinary team of epidemiologists, nutritionists, biologists and statisticians. It focuses primarily on aetiological research into the relationship between nutrition and cancer. This includes diet and dietary patterns, body composition and physical activity as possible determinants of cancer, as well as genetic susceptibility in human carcinogenesis. UNAC also researches the role of nutritional factors in the prognosis of cancer patients and survivors. To achieve this, it combines traditional epidemiological approaches with more innovative tools including exposure and susceptibility biomarkers.

Historically, most research by UNAC has been carried out under the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), in collaboration with the European Union, IARC/WHO and Imperial College London ( EPIC is a multicentric cohort study with a primary objective to investigate the relationship between nutrition, lifestyle, genetic and environmental factors and the incidence of cancer and other chronic diseases. UNAC is engaged in several EPIC-related areas of research and leads the working group on gastric and oesophageal cancer. The Unit recently developed new research lines looking at the aetiology of hormone-related cancers, mainly endometrial and ovarian cancers. UNAC also works closely with other EPIC working groups on breast, lung, prostate and colorectal cancers. So far, EPIC has identified more than 90,000 cancer cases and is one of the largest existing studies of this type in the world, pooling data from approximately 500,000 individuals followed for almost 20 years in 10 European countries, including Spain.

There is growing interest in the potential role of nutrition in the prognosis and progression of disease in cancer survivors, mainly in common cancers causally related to diet. Interventional studies are needed to confirm the role of these lifestyle factors on cancer prognosis and to establish specific recommendations. UNAC coordinates a multicentre randomised clinical trial (PREDICOP) to assess the effect of a lifestyle intervention (combining weight control, diet and physical activity) on the risk of recurrence among breast cancer patients, as well as the effect of the intervention on survival and quality of life. This on-going trial aims to include around 2,000 women diagnosed with non-metastatic breast cancer. Participants will be placed either in an intervention or a control group and followed for five years. Patients in the intervention group will take part in a lifestyle programme with two components: the dietary part will aim to achieve a calorie reduction while maintaining nutritional quality; the physical activity part will include supervised exercise sessions of moderate intensity.

UNAC Group

Primary research areas:

  • Gastric cancer: molecular and genetic epidemiology and carcinogenic mechanisms

    UNAC studies the genetic risk factors and genomic determinants of gastric cancer and its precursor lesions. It is also interested in how a molecular classification of gastric cancer may help clinicians with regard to better prognosis and treatment and earlier diagnosis of disease via the identification of novel biomarkers.

  • Nutrition, body composition and physical activity in cancer patients and survivors

    UNAC conducts clinical research into the potential role of dietary and exercise interventions in prognosis and quality of life for breast cancer patients, as well as the role of obesity and body composition in the survival of obesity-related cancers.

  • Nutritional epidemiology, cancer and other chronic diseases

    UNAC studies the role of dietary patterns and dietary components (including potential carcinogens) in the aetiology of several tumour sites. The main areas of interest are chrono-nutrition, dietary patterns, meat and meat-related products, body iron status, inflammatory potential of diet, Mediterranean diet, dietary carcinogens and contaminants, fatty acids and reproductive factors.

  • Polyphenol exposure and cancer

    UNAC examines the relationships between polyphenol and polyphenol-rich foods and the risk of cancer (incidence and prognosis) and related diseases such as diabetes and obesity.
    It aims to improve dietary assessment of polyphenol exposure using dietary questionnaires and objectively-measured nutritional biomarkers.

  • Hormonal and molecular factors associated with endometrial and ovarian cancers

    This new research line at UNAC identifies molecular pathways and susceptibility associated with hormone-related cancers, as well as the potential interactions of these with hormonal and environmental factors, to explain the risk of the disease. This research should provide insights to improve prognosis and treatment of these tumours.