One of our leading experts in lung cancer, Professor Dean Fennell, shares his thoughts on this devastating disease.
Lung cancer is an enormous health burden both in the UK and globally. It’s incredibly common and kills roughly 35,000 people every year in the UK alone – and more than 1.3 million people worldwide.
But despite its prevalence, and the strain it places on healthcare, progress in treating lung cancer has been slow.
Historically, the disease has always been viewed as one that’s difficult to treat, and this has led to a general lack of interest in trying to move treatments forwards. The reluctance to carry out research into lung cancer was further increased by the perception that we’d hit a plateau with treatment about 10 years ago, and many people in the field felt that we’d reached the limit of what we could achieve in this disease.
What’s the link between dinosaur evolution and cancer? It’s an odd question, but one we were faced with when Cancer Research UK scientist Professor Gerard Evan gave a fascinating talk at our head office recently.
If you want to be simultaneously intrigued, entertained and uplifted, we recommend that you take 15 minutes out of your day to watch what he had to say:
Gerard recently moved his family back to the UK from San Francisco to work as a Cancer Research UK scientist. Now based at the University of Cambridge, Gerard has dedicated the last couple decades of his life to understanding a solitary molecule called MYC.
While much of the scientific community is trying to understand the differences between each person’s cancer so that treatment can be ‘personalised’, Gerard is taking a different approach. He thinks the MYC molecule is one of a few universal master switches in cells that can be manipulated to stop or treat cancer.
During his fascinating talk, he challenged some of the common language we use when we talk about cancer, which he thinks imbues the disease with an undeserved mystery. Cancer doesn’t “thwart” or “resist” our attempts at treatment, he says, it simply blindly evolves.
We have invited several other researchers to talk about their research over the coming months. Please do let us know in the comments section below if you would like to see more of them.
Dr Len reflects on progress and remaining challenges in cancer
Dr Len Lichtenfeld is deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. We invited Len to share his thoughts about our shared challenge of beating cancer.
As well as giving his unique perspective on the US’s “war on cancer”, Dr Len writes about the similarities and differences between the US and UK in our approaches to preventing, detecting and treating the disease:
It has been a long slog since we started our war on cancer here in the United States in 1971.
At times I am not certain that this has been so much of a war as opposed to a series of skirmishes that occasionally have produced incredible moments of optimism. But there have been a fair share of frustrations as well along the way. Our science and our care have made significant progress, but sometimes we find ourselves asking, “What have you done for me lately?”
I think it is important to reflect on the progress that we have made on several fronts in detecting cancer earlier, treating it more effectively and providing quality of care for those who find themselves caught in the jaws of illness, especially for those whose journey has not been successful.
The headline finding, as Cancer Research UK reports on its newsfeed is that testing a woman’s smear samples for the human papillomavirus (HPV) predicts who is likely to go on develop early signs of cervical cancer up to 18 years later.
And the study, which involved 4,000 women, showed the power of testing samples for the virus was much greater than the existing test – cytology – which looks down a microscope for abnormal cells.
This is not surprising. But it is new, and extremely important, as we’ll see below.
Exhaust fumes have been conclusively linked to lung cancer
Today the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – part of the World Health Organisation – announced that it had reclassified diesel exhaust as a ‘definite carcinogen’ – putting it in its highest category (Category 1).
In other words, IARC’s expert panel assessed all the available scientific evidence and decided that exposure to diesel exhaust fumes can, and does, cause cancer in humans – specifically lung cancer (although there’s weak evidence they’re also linked to bladder cancer).
But what does this mean in practice? Is this something the general public should be worried about?
We spoke to Professor David Phillips – a Cancer Research UK-funded carcinogen expert from King’s College London – to ask him what he thought of the announcement.
Professor Gerard Evan is Head of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge. Earlier in the week, we wrote about his work on a crucial cancer-associated gene called Myc.
In this thought-provoking article, Professor Evan explains how cancer is an evolving and adapting enemy, and talks about strategies to combat the disease.
Biology has undergone an unprecedented technical revolution in the past two decades. Despite its complexity, biological systems can now be mapped and catalogued in minute detail – we can monitor the activity of every one of our approximately 25,000 genes; identify almost every protein present in a cell; and even sequence the entire genomes of animals, plants, bacteria or cancer cells.
A few years ago, drugs that block the growth of new blood vessels, known as ‘angiogenesis inhibitors’, looked as if they could be the next big thing in cancer treatment by providing a way to starve tumours and halt their growth. But several studies cast doubt on this theory, showing that in some cases the drugs could actually encourage the growth of tumours rather than slowing it.
This was a blow to the field – but luckily cancer researchers don’t give up that easily. Professor Hodivala-Dilke is forging ahead to understand exactly how blood vessels grow, and she’s hoping to find new ways to target this process and develop more effective treatments. Continue reading →