Cancer prevention: an interdisciplinary approach across sex/gender and ethnicity/cultural divides

Cancer incidence is on the rise worldwide, posing a rapidly increasing humanitarian and economic challenge with an urgent need to improve cancer prevention.

Men and women have different susceptibilities to cancer,  different  survival rates, and respond differently to therapy. There are human  population differences in cancer risk and drug susceptibilities. How environmental, hormonal and nutritional factors act in concert with genetic and epigenetic determinants of cancer risk at the level of individuals and various human populations  is still  poorly explored despite advances in personalised/precision medicine.

 Currently, most cancer research focusses on mechanisms of tumorigenesis to identify molecular targets for therapy rather than to prevent the disease. This is in part due to the fact that  it  is difficult to measure success in cancer prevention making an obstacle to investments by funding agencies.  Furthermore the growing economic impact of preventing the disease is still poorly appreciated. To overcome these issues and to shift the research paradigm, it is essential to train a new generation of scientists aware of challenges and opportunities in cancer prevention and endowed them with an interdisciplinary view on how to address these complex questions.

Cross-disciplinary educational efforts for doctoral and advanced master studies in cancer prevention are rare. To link research efforts in basic molecular and cellular biology with epidemiological and environmental studies, is key for developing new approaches to decrease cancer risk  and minimize the clinical problems of under- or over-treatments. 

The International Cancer Prevention Institute (ICPI) is a unique educational and research platform. It  aims at improve cancer prevention through interdisciplinary efforts and strong personal relationships among participating members and supporting institutions. Its focus is on the interplay between sex hormones and chromosomes in cancer susceptibility and in personalised approaches to cancer prevention. This takes the following forms :

I. primary cancer prevention, at the level of individuals of different sex/gender and ancestries, to reduce overall risk of various cancer types;

II. secondary cancer prevention to detect of premalignant lesions early and identify markers of high risk of disease progression;

III. tertiary cancer prevention, at the level of cancer patients, to prevent cancer recurrence 

Education and  training are intimately linked with cutting-edge research efforts. The research programs at ICPI currently focus on breast and skin cancer, as benchmarks of major clinical significance for cancer prevention in organs with reproductive and non-reproductive functions, respectively. Other cancer types will be considered in the future,

          Research results can take decades to translate into effective public health measures. In a rapidly developing world, it is essential to close the gap between basic and clinical research and the public health and policy making sectors. ICPI fosters communication skills and outreach activities of participating members and their students with people with different stakeholders.

A major stepping stone towards achievement of these ambitious goals is the newly established Innovative Training Network (ITN) on Cancer Prevention under the egida of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie program. ICPI also partakes in a new Master Program of Advanced Studies in Gender Medicine to be soon flanked by a sister program in Cancer Prevention.