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Every year, the number of new cancer patients increases, and improved survival in cancer patients results in a growing number of patients living with the long-term consequences of cancer. Nevertheless, 40% of all patients still die from this disease. This leads to a growing demand for research on prevention and early diagnosis on the one hand, and improvement of treatments, quality of life and palliative care, on the other hand. Our group consists of researchers from the departments of Epidemiology and General Practice, including Palliative Care. We carry out large patient and population-related studies, together with clinicians and translational researchers, to provide evidence to improve cancer care in all of these fields.
About the program
Cancer is complex, treacherous and burdensome. It can go undetected for a long time and a number of factors or combinations of factors can contribute to the cause and progression of the disease. Our group consists of researchers from the departments of Epidemiology and General Practice, including Palliative Care. Together we study the various factors that might affect cancer pathogenesis and progression and we develop and evaluate improved prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care strategies.
The best way to fight cancer is to prevent it
We’re investigating why and how certain groups of people develop cancer. To do this, we use information about lifestyle, nutrition, biomarkers, genes and omics from the renowned population-based European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) cohort and other cohorts. EPIC in particular, is one of the largest cohort studies in the world and has followed half a million participants in 10 European countries since the 1990s. We also develop and evaluate ways of preventing cancer in randomized controlled trials in the field of diet and physical activity.
Early detection of cancer greatly increases the chance of survival
We focus on evaluating new methods for early detection of cancer, in order to improve survival and quality of life, in an optimal balance between benefit, potential harm and costs. We develop and evaluate personalized cancer screening strategies based on a person’s risk factors, and investigate whether, and to what extent, there is a delay in the diagnosis of different cancer types in primary and secondary care, and how this can be improved.
We also develop and evaluate biomarker-based models for accurate cancer diagnosis, prognosis and therapy response. These markers include emerging imaging technologies (e.g. molecular imaging), omics-based tests and organoids. In this field, we’re also involved in smaller, early phase translational studies, with clinicians and basic researchers. These are highly innovative studies with high potential for medical innovation.
Alternative designs for evaluating treatment and survivorship care
Together with the Department of Imaging and Cancer and other clinical departments we’re involved in setting up cancer patient cohorts. These large groups of patients provide a wealth of information about disease progression and serve as a framework for simultaneous testing of different interventions using the so-called Trials within Cohorts(TwiCs) design. In close collaboration with the Methodology Research Program of the Julius Center, we address statistical and ethical challenges of this and other alternative trial designs.
Nearly as important as therapy, is survivorship care – what happens during and after cancer treatment? Patients need support in personalized treatment choices, and optimal guidance during treatment to cope with its impact. They benefit from an individualized long-term plan that helps them monitor and maintain their health, along with potential late effects that may arise. To this end, we’re investigating how lifestyle (interventions) can reduce side effects of treatment and improve prognosis, self-empowerment and quality of life. Together with regional partners in primary and secondary care, we develop new models of collaborative cancer care during treatment and follow-up, aiming to optimize quality of life and shared decision making.
For patients with cancer who are in the last phase of life we map the symptomatology and investigate the required interventions and the optimal professional involvement in palliative care. Together with the other clinical departments we are involved in regional and national collaborative programs on palliative care.
Coordinator and senior researchers
Coordinator of the research program: Prof. Dr Carla van Gils.
Senior researchers of the program: Frederieke van der Baan, Marije Bakker, Sjoerd Elias, Carla van Gils, Everlien de Graaf, Charles Helsper, Marijke Kars, Anne May, Evelyn Monninkhof, Petra Peeters, Saskia Teunissen and Niek de Wit.
Studies and PhD research
Studies and cohorts of the research program Cancer