Nutritional Metabolomics in Cancer Epidemiology: Current Trends, Challenges, and Future Directions

Curr Nutr Rep. 2019 Sep;8(3):187-201. doi: 10.1007/s13668-019-00279-z.


Purpose of review: Metabolomics offers several opportunities for advancement in nutritional cancer epidemiology; however, numerous research gaps and challenges remain. This narrative review summarizes current research, challenges, and future directions for epidemiologic studies of nutritional metabolomics and cancer.

Recent findings: Although many studies have used metabolomics to investigate either dietary exposures or cancer, few studies have explicitly investigated diet-cancer relationships using metabolomics. Most studies have been relatively small (≤ ~ 250 cases) or have assessed a limited number of nutritional metabolites (e.g., coffee or alcohol-related metabolites). Nutritional metabolomic investigations of cancer face several challenges in study design; biospecimen selection, handling, and processing; diet and metabolite measurement; statistical analyses; and data sharing and synthesis. More metabolomics studies linking dietary exposures to cancer risk, prognosis, and survival are needed, as are biomarker validation studies, longitudinal analyses, and methodological studies. Despite the remaining challenges, metabolomics offers a promising avenue for future dietary cancer research.

Keywords: Biomarker; Cancer; Diet; Metabolomics; Narrative review; Nutrition.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Diet
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Humans
  • Metabolome
  • Metabolomics / methods*
  • Metabolomics / trends
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Prognosis


  • Biomarkers, Tumor