2019 was a year jam packed with brilliant progress and new challenges for cancer research. Here are our top stories of the year, from the first trial of a new cancer breath test to understanding lung cancer evolution. 

Re-writing the breast cancer rulebook

In 2012, scientists at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute discovered that they could separate breast cancer into 10 distinct categories by studying faults in their DNA, creating a new set of rules for defining breast cancer. And this year they’ve shown these rules stand the test of time with cancers in the different categories behaving very differently 20 years after they were initially diagnosed.  

Caldas and his team won’t stop there they hope to turn what they’ve learnt into a test that could help give women diagnosed with breast cancer more certainty about their future, as well as treatment options that are right for them. Read more about their amazing research in our blog post.

We also visited the team’s breast cancer avatars, which could help to tailor treatments for hard-to-treat cancers. 

 A cancer breath test enters trials 

This year, Cancer Research UK-funded scientists were the first to trial a non-invasive breath test thats hoping to detect multiple cancers by picking up distinctive molecules, or ‘signatures’, in people’s breath 

Three new teams take on some of the biggest challenges in cancer research 

Our ambitious Grand Challenge research award was set up 5 years ago to help revolutionise our understanding of cancer. This year, Grand Challenge has selected 3 international groups of determined scientists to confront some of the biggest questions in cancer research.  

To embark on a virtual trip into the gut – check out the video below 

 Tracking cancer evolution with the TRACERx lung study  

Survival of the fittest doesn’t just apply to animals in the wild cancers are constantly evolving and adapting in order to survive. Our TRACERx study is tracking lung cancers in nearly 850 patients, scrutinising the precise evolution of the cancer, in order to develop new, more tailored treatment combinations 

The team, led by Cancer Research UK’s lead clinician Professor Charles Swanton, have analysed the tactics tumours use to respond to and hide from the immune system.  

And new results published this year has found that detecting potential tumour cells in the blood after surgery could help predict the course the disease could take and the likelihood of lung cancer returning. We went to Manchester to catch up with Caroline Dive, who told us how this new information could change lung cancer treatment.
   

Our NHS diaries reveal the impact of staff shortages 

 One in 10 NHS diagnostic staff positions are currently unfilled in England. So we went behind the scenes to hear what it’s for like for the people giving and receiving a diagnosis under the pressures of an NHS in crisis.  

We spoke to Dawn, a consultant radiographer who diagnoses breast cancer and Neil, who was diagnosed with penile cancer 5 years ago and was waiting to hear if his cancer had come back.  

Science Surgery 

As well as speaking with our brilliant researchers, we answered some of your important questions about cancer this year… 

Confessions of a former junk food ad exec 

Last year, the Government revealed its bold ambition to halve childhood obesity by 2030, committing to consult on introducing a 9pm watershed on junk food marketing. It’s a measure we’ve been campaigning for since 2016, but it’s not a done deal yet.  We need to keep the pressure up to ensure the Government turns its proposals into action.

We spoke to Dan Parker, a former food ad exec turned campaigner, about the tricks of the trade used by marketers to influence how people make decisions about what they eat. To find out more about what Dan suggests we can do tackle this continuing problem, read our blog post.

A spotlight on detecting cancer early  

The earlier a cancer is picked up, the more likely a person is to survive. Finding innovative new ways to help detect the very early stages of cancer is one of our top priorities, and this year we announced a new international alliance to help accelerate research in this area. 

We also spoke to some of our scientists about exciting research that is helping to pick up cancer clues in blood, poo and urine.  

Thanks for all your generous donations throughout 2019 that made this amazing work possible. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Cancer Research UK. 

 Lilly