Cancer and Molecular Epidemiology

Cancer and Molecular Epidemiology

Programme leader
P.A. van den Brandt

Mission statement of the programme
The mission of the programme 'Cancer and Molecular Epidemiology' is to advance research on the role of dietary, other lifestyle and genetic factors into the etiology and progression of cancer, which can be translated to serve as knowledge basis for improved prevention and prognosis.

Description of the programme
The Cancer and Molecular Epidemiology programme uses multidisciplinary research and innovative (molecular) epidemiological designs, to study the role of diet, lifestyle, (epi)genetics and molecular pathways in cancer etiology and prognosis; study gene-environment interactions in cancer; study risk stratification and risk prediction for personalised prevention.

A large part of the programme is based on the prospective Netherlands Cohort Study on Diet and Cancer (NLCS). The NLCS started in 1986 and includes 120,852 men and women aged 55-69 years. At baseline, cohort members completed a mailed self-administered questionnaire on dietary habits, and other risk factors for cancer; they also provided toenail clippings. The NLCS is followed up regularly by record linkage to the Netherlands Cancer Registry, the national pathology registry PALGA, the municipal population registries and the causes of death registry (Statistics Netherlands). The NLCS uses a case-cohort design.
Many different satellite projects are carried out within the framework of this cohort study and concern etiology and prognosis of cancer. These projects are focused on nutrition and lifestyle factors and risk of various types of cancer, often in collaboration with many other departments in Maastricht UMC+. Many molecular epidemiological projects in the NLCS focus on tumor heterogeneity through molecularly defined subtypes of cancer, epigenetics, biomarkers, genetic susceptibility and gene-environment interactions. These projects are based on large-scale collection of tumor blocks and DNA from toenails, in close collaboration with MUMC Depts of Pathology and Toxicology.

Another part of the programme is focused on prognostic studies of breast cancer in relation to mammography, (micro)metastases, and sentinel node procedures, and on the effectiveness of different treatment modalities. This is being studied in collaboration with departments of Medical Oncology, Surgery, Radiation Oncology, and with surgeons from the Eindhoven/Veldhoven region. We also started with studies in cancer survivors; one of these is focused on physical activity, nutrition and quality of life in colorectal cancer survivors.

The programme collaborates with many national and international groups, and in various consortia.