Dr Ernst L. Wynder

30 April 2-14 July 1999

This year saw the passing of one of the pioneers in the field of nutrition and cancer. Dr. E. L. Wynder, a member of the editorial board of Nutrition and Cancer since its inception, died on 14 July 1999.

Ernst Wynder, known for his groundbreaking epidemiological study linking tobacco smoking and lung cancer, was also a major figure in the development of the field of nutritional carcinogenesis. In the 1950s, he and colleagues in Sweden demonstrated that Plummer-Vinson syndrome, common in Sweden at the time, was due to a deficiency in iron intake. Subsequent supplementation of flour with iron resulted in eradication of the disease. He soon turned from diseases of undernutrition to those of overnutrition or diseases of affluence, cancer being primary among them. On the basis of worldwide geographic comparisons of cancer incidence and mortality, he concluded that the large variation in breast cancer morality rates in countries like Japan and the United States could not be attributed solely to the known risk factors for breast cancer (e.g., age at 1st birth and age at menarche) and that an important part of breast cancer risk could be attributed to environmental factors, the most important of which was diet.

To bring his ideas to fruition, he established the American Health Foundation as an independent disease prevention center in 1969. The American Health Foundation is one of the National Cancer Institute-designated laboratory cancer centers. Since that time and until his death, he tirelessly campaigned for more research into the role of nutrition in cancer causation and prevention.

In 1975, he was coorganizer of the Key Biscayne Conference sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, which was the first international meeting devoted solely to the role of nutrition in cancer causation and prevention. He was also among the first to recognize the importance of analyzing the specific nutritional and biochemical factors associated with cancer risk in different populations and coined the term "metabolic epidemiology" to describe this approach.

Ernst Wynder's primary goal was to bring knowledge gained from laboratory studies and epidemiological observations to bear on major public health problems. To this end, he developed with his colleagues one of the first nutrition intervention clinical trials, the Women's Intervention Nutrition Study. The Women's Intervention Nutrition Study currently involves >2,500 postmenopausal women with stage I and II breast cancer who are receiving low-fat dietary intervention after surgery to prevent recurrence. Over 30 cancer centers are participating in the trial. A similar intervention trial is underway for prevention of progressive disease in prostate cancer patients.

We all, in the many disciplines related to nutrition and cancer, owe a debt of gratitude to Ernst Wynder for his many contributions and his vision.

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Leonard A. Cohen


By Leonard A. Cohen, Ph.D., Editor

Adapted by Ph.D.

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