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

  • Emma E. McGeeEmail author
  • Rama Kiblawi
  • Mary C. Playdon
  • A. Heather Eliassen
Cancer (MF Leitzmann, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Cancer


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.


Narrative review Nutrition Diet Cancer Metabolomics Biomarker 



Consortium of METabolomics Studies


Food Biomarkers Alliance


Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry


Liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry


Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Emma E. McGee, Rama Kiblawi, Mary C. Playdon, and A. Heather Eliassen declare they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

All reported studies/experiments with human or animal subjects performed by the authors have been previously published and complied with all applicable ethical standards (including the Helsinki declaration and its amendments, institutional/national research committee standards, and international/national/institutional guidelines).


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019
corrected publication 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emma E. McGee
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Rama Kiblawi
    • 3
  • Mary C. Playdon
    • 3
    • 4
  • A. Heather Eliassen
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Channing Division of Network Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s HospitalHarvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of EpidemiologyHarvard T.H. Chan School of Public HealthBostonUSA
  3. 3.Division of Cancer Population Sciences, Huntsman Cancer InstituteUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  4. 4.Department of Nutrition and Integrative PhysiologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

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