Lifestyle and Cancer: Understanding the Connection

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Researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Center for Integrated Research on Cancer and Lifestyle (CIRCL) are working to understand the connections between lifestyle and cancer.

It seems like every month there’s a new study that says we should avoid this or that to lower our risk of cancer. And often, these studies report conflicting results: eat more meat or eat only plant-based foods; drink red wine or stay away from alcohol.

These mixed messages can leave us wondering what exactly we can do to lower our risk of getting cancer—or improve our chances of beating cancer if we already have it.

We hope to answer the question, “What is the link between what I put in my mouth and cancer?”

Researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Center for Integrated Research on Cancer and Lifestyle (CIRCL) are trying to clear up this confusion. Led by Dr. Stephen Freedland, CIRCL is working to gain a better understanding of the connection between lifestyle and cancer.

We sat down with Dr. Freedland to learn more about CIRCL and what the team hopes to achieve with their research.

Q: What is the purpose of CIRCL?

Dr. Freedland: We want to build a knowledge base of how lifestyle impacts cancer risk and survivorship and distill that back to patients and doctors.

The idea is to really study how people live—how they eat, drink, exercise, and sleep—and learn how that impacts their risk of getting cancer or the aggressiveness of that cancer.

From that, we hope to generate better ideas about what a healthy lifestyle really is.


Read: Common Questions About Cancer Clinical Trials


Q: Why is this research important?

Dr. Freedland: There’s a lot of data that suggests lifestyle may play a role in how cancer develops, and yet the advice is all over the place. One article says do this, the other says don’t. Often times doctors will tell patients to be “healthier,” but what does that mean?

We want to look at what exactly healthy living looks like, with the idea that there probably isn’t one single option. It’s like buying a car—there are a lot of options and they all work well, but they might not all be right for you.

That’s where we want to get to with our research. We want to provide guidance on the best options for living a healthy lifestyle.

Q: What is CIRCL currently studying?

Dr. Freedland: Right now, we’re starting with a lot of focus on diet. We have studies looking at nutritional impacts on prostate cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and brain tumors.

Later this year, we plan to start studying fatty liver disease, which is a risk factor for developing liver cancer.

We also have an exercise study up and running, with more to come, and we want to look at other factors including stress, sleep habits, and loneliness.


Read: TNBC: Taking on the Toughest Breast Cancer


Q: What are your goals for CIRCL?

Dr. Freedland: We hope to answer the question “What is the link between what I put in my mouth and cancer?” We are actively engaged in answering that question.

The long-term vision for us is to utilize precision health. We want to be able to personalize lifestyle recommendations for patients based on their genes and microbiome. We’re not there yet, but that is the goal.

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