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Home » EU Health, Health, Healthcare Policy, Lung Cancer

How do we solve the hardest challenges in cancer?

Submitted by on 06 Dec 2016 – 17:22

Cancer Research UK has made lung cancer a priority and has increased funding towards the deadly disease as against other cancer types.   Dr. Karen Noble, Head of Research Training and Fellowships, Cancer Research UK, makes an assessment of the challenges in fighting cancer and offers solutions for change

While survival across all cancers has doubled in the last 40 years, that progress hasn’t been equal for all types of the disease. Lung cancer has lagged behind and there has been little improvement in recent decades. That’s why we’ve made lung cancer a priority at Cancer Research UK. It is one of the most common cancers in Europe and it is responsible for the most deaths from the disease. Through our extensive research and policy work, we’ve started to tackle some of the most important challenges that are preventing advances in lung cancer – but we need to do more. We urgently need to change the status quo and deliver on new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease.

Building a sustainable research community

It’s vital that we strengthen our world-class science base, building on and developing new global collaborations and exploring opportunities to create an environment that more effectively supports lung cancer research.

We’ve made a commitment to increase funding in lung cancer but we need to support and develop more junior researchers throughout their careers to create strong senior leadership in the field for the future – ensuring that there will be more high-quality research to fund.

We’ve already taken significant steps. For example, we’ve opened the Lung Cancer Centre of Excellence, helping to create a hub which provides training for researchers and helps to strengthen connections and foster collaboration within the community.

Getting better treatments to the people who need them

We’ve made significant investments into studies that focus on lung cancer and provide crucial infrastructure that is accessible to the wider research community. One of the most ambitious is our National Lung Matrix trial – working in close collaboration with funding partners and a network of hospitals and genetics labs to test new treatments in patients, based on the genetic changes driving each individual patient’s tumour. And pioneering projects such as our TRACERx study which tracks how lung cancers evolve over time and take us one step closer towards an era of precision medicine.

This type of research provides the foundations for future discovery, and ultimately new treatments for cancer patients. It’s crucial that these new treatments then reach patients. This is why we continue to focus on improving how drugs and other technologies are licensed and appraised so that each cancer patient has access to the best, evidence based treatment for their condition.

Improving tobacco control

Better research isn’t the only way to tackle lung cancer – this is a disease that can largely be prevented. Smoking is responsible for over 8 out of 10 cases of lung cancer in Europe. Smoking rates are at an historical low in the UK after decades of successive action to tackle tobacco use; we’ve been involved in encouraging the Government to put advertising restrictions in place, implement tax rises and provide cessation services to help people stop smoking. We have an ambition to see a tobacco-free UK by 2035, (which we would define as smoking prevalence at less than 5%). This can only be achieved by radically accelerating efforts to stop children from starting and helping adults quit.

With partners across the Europe, including the Smoke Free Partnership, we have advocated for strong regulatory measures to tackle tobacco use. This includes the Tobacco Products Directive which introduces large cigarette pack graphic health warnings across Europe. In the UK we have gone further by introducing plain, standardised packaging – a measure which signals the end of glitzy cigarette packaging shown to appeal to children.

Detecting the early signs of cancer

Lung cancer experts are unanimous on one point – survival is low because many people are diagnosed too late to be treated successfully with life-saving surgery.

We are working to ensure that the public is aware of the symptoms of lung cancer to increase the chances of diagnosis at a stage where people are more likely to survive. We support symptom awareness campaigns like Be Clear on Cancer. Previous evaluation has shown that this campaign led to hundreds more people in England receiving surgery after an earlier diagnosis.

One potential solution to this problem is screening – to test healthy people with no symptoms – for signs of lung cancer. There is currently no reliable screening test that has been proven to reduce overall lung cancer mortality at a population level and so we do not presently support the introduction of a lung cancer screening programme for the general population or for smokers. We are however monitoring ongoing clinical trials of screening strategies and look forward to seeing their results.

Time for change…

While we’re making big strides towards speeding up progress for people with lung cancer, there is a long way to go – we won’t take our foot off the accelerator until our work translates into a better outlook for patients. We’ll continue to work alongside other cancer research organisations, and  instigate change from the UK Government to improve survival for those affected by this disease.