We’re the only cancer charity in the UK fighting over 200 cancer types
“Why don’t you spend more on my cancer type?” and “why don’t you do more to highlight awareness?”
These are two questions we hear frequently, and topics that are close to many of our supporters’ hearts.
Understandably, everyone who has lost a loved one to cancer, or themselves struggled against the disease, wants to know that every effort is being made to tackle that particular cancer – whether it’s one of the more common forms such as bowel cancer or lung cancer, or a rarer cancer such as retinoblastoma.
Cancer is complex and it’s not just one disease. In fact, we’re the only cancer charity in the UK fighting over 200 cancer types. In an ideal world, we would make sure that research into all cancer types received the ‘perfect’ level of funding and equal prominence. But there are a number of reasons why this is a very difficult goal to achieve.
In this blog post we’ll look at why this is the case, and what we’re doing to try to address imbalances both in the research that gets funded, and in the coverage each cancer type receives.
Mary Bacon was treated with imatinib for two years after she was diagnosed with CML in 2008
Thirty years ago, we published research that was a key early step in the journey towards the first genetically tailored cancer drug, imatinib (also known as Glivec, or Gleevec in the United States).
This drug changed the landscape, not just for those for whom it was designed – people with chronic myeloid leukaemia – but for cancer treatment as a whole.
Imatinib is unlike the conventional chemotherapy drugs that came before it. Such ‘cytotoxic’ chemo indiscriminately kills rapidly dividing cells. These include the intended target – cancer cells – but also some healthy cells like those lining the gut and mouth and hair follicle cells. Imatinib on the other hand, is specific to a molecule produced by certain cancer cells.
Imatinib featured on the front cover of Time magazine and was hailed as a “magic bullet”. It was indeed a revolution of its time – after it was approved in 2001, bed-ridden patients who’d been given just months to live were up on their feet and re-energised, thanks to their cancer being eradicated by imatinib.
The story of imatinib – outlined in more detail below – is proof that if you understand the precise abnormality that is driving the cancer, there is hope for a cure. And we are proud that our early laboratory work provided a crucial stepping stone on the road to its development.
Professor Sir Walter Bodmer who helped locate the APC gene 25 years ago.
There’s a lot more to do before we can say we’ve beaten cancer, but every now and then, it’s good to sit back and reflect on how far we’ve already come.
Back in June, when the country was celebrating the Diamond Jubilee, we took time to think about how much cancer research has changed since the Queen came to the throne.
And this month, we’re proud to look back at one of our key achievements, which has played a big role in the lives of the one in twenty patients who’s bowel cancer is inherited.
The National Cancer Intelligence Network had its annual conference last week
Imagine a future where you can go online and compare which hospital is the best in your area to treat your type of cancer.
A future where, as a cancer patient, you have all the information you need to be an equal in the decision-making process about your treatment.A future where you can go online to book a screening appointment – and find out your results.
That future is coming – and it’s not as far away as you might think.
This was the message coming loud and clear from this year’s National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) conference, held in Birmingham last week.
Five hundred delegates came together – including statisticians, GPs, cancer specialists, researchers, policy makers and, importantly, nearly 100 cancer patients or carers – to hear the latest progress being made in ‘cancer intelligence’.
And by ‘intelligence’, we mean in the James Bond-sense of the word: knowing everything there is to know about our enemy – cancer. That means knowing everything about each person’s cancer journey, from before they are diagnosed, right through their treatment, their follow-up, and anything that happens after that.
Cancer Research UK is ten, but our history stretches back to 1902
This week marks ten years since the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) and the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) merged to form Cancer Research UK. We’re now the world’s largest independent organisation dedicated to cancer research.
Over the past decade, we’ve joined forces with scientists, doctors and nurses across the globe to make great progress in the fight against cancer, and our research has changed people’s lives.
For example, we’ve tracked down new gene faults linked to cancer, our clinical trials have transformed the way that patients are treated, and drugs that were originally discovered and developed by our scientists are now used in hospitals around the world.
And our achievements haven’t just been restricted to research. Thanks to determined campaigning by our supporters, landmark smoke-free legislation was introduced in the UK in 2007. This is arguably the greatest public health achievement of the century, let alone the decade, and will save thousands of lives.
But that’s not all
Although we’re proud to be celebrating our tenth anniversary, in actual fact we have a much greater heritage stretching back to the turn of the last century.
Professor Caroline Dive's work on biomarkers will help to improve cancer treatment
On Sunday, Professor Paul Workman talked about personalised medicine. And on Monday we heard more about this “unparalleled time of opportunity for cancer drug development,” from Johann de Bono of The Institute of Cancer Research.
Chairing a session called ‘Getting personal in anticancer drug development’, Professor de Bono went on to add that “the current paradigm is tumour type, organ-based treatment. Might the future look like this – where treatment for all cancers is based on the genetic signature of a cancer, not the organ affected?”.
The more we understand about the molecules involved in cancer, the more avenues become open to us to explore new possibilities for treating the disease. One researcher tackling this area is Professor Caroline Dive, who runs the Cancer Research UK-funded Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology Group at the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research in Manchester.
She and her team are working to find new biomarkers – molecules that can be used to track and monitor cancer. Professor Dive presented fascinating new research about how tracking the cells and DNA that have escaped from a patient’s cancer into their blood system could be used as a way to monitor a patient’s response to a new cancer treatment – as she explains in this short video.
Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton opens the Centre of the Cell
How many human cells can you fit on the dot of a one penny piece? And how many cells in your body are not actually your own? You can find the answer to these and many other questions at the Centre of the Cell – a brand new science centre that officially launched in London earlier this month.
Unlike the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum, which are nestled in the cosy “museum land” of South Kensington, the Centre of the Cell is off the beaten tourist track, in the unexpected location of East London – Whitechapel to be precise.
It’s in an unusual location, but then this is no ordinary science education centre. The Centre of the Cell is located slap bang within the working biomedical research labs of the Blizard Institute – part of Queen Mary University of London. And it’s this proximity to real-life science and scientists that makes the Centre unique in the world.