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Our progress and achievements in the 1960s

Bobby Moore lifting the World Cup in 1966The "swinging Sixties" were an exciting time in the UK. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones provided the soundtrack for the nation, and people protested against the Vietnam war, nuclear weapons and apartheid.

We witnessed the Suez Crisis, the abolition of the death penalty, the first man on the moon, Concorde's maiden flight and the birth of the miniskirt. And England beat Germany to win the 1966 football World Cup.

Against this backdrop, our scientists were making steady progress in understanding cancer and developing new treatments. Here are some highlights.

Cancer rates in the 1960s

Cancer wasn't the leading cause of death in England and Wales in the 50s and 60s - instead heart disease topped this list, followed by cancer then stroke and infectious diseases. By 1969, however, cancer had become the leading cause of deaths in women, although it wasn’t until 1995 that the same became true for men.

In the 50s and 60s the death rate from lung cancer in men doubled, reflecting smoking trends from 30 years earlier. It has since fallen from 100 per 100,000 men by 1969 to 66 per 100,000 today.

And In the 1960s the outlook from childhood cancer was bleak - only 3 in 10 children survived their cancer diagnosis. Nowadays 3 in 4 children are successfully treated, thanks to advances in research.

Viruses and cancer

In 1963, Cancer Research-UK-funded scientists discovered the first human cancer virus -  Epstein-Barr virus - in the cells of a 9-year old child with Burkitt's lymphoma.1. The virus also causes cancer of the nasal cavity, and some other types of lymphoma. 

Up to a fifth of all cancers worldwide are now known to be linked to viruses and bacteria.

Breast cancer screening

We showed that mammography could detect breast cancer early. 2 

Today, the national breast screening programme has screened more than 14 million women and detected over 80,000 cancers, saving around a thousand lives every year in England alone. 3

The London Research Institute

The London Research InstituteNew state-of-the-art laboratories opened in Lincoln's Inn Fields, London. Today, these labs form part of the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute, where our world-class scientists are leading pioneering studies into cancer biology.

Curing choriocarcinoma

Our scientists were the first to use a combination of the drugs methotrexate and mercaptopurine to treat a rare cancer called choriocarcinoma. Survival for this cancer doubled within a few years of this discovery and it is now curable in almost all cases.

And we’re still going strong

Find out about the latest progress from our Press Centre and Science Update Blog.

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  1.   Epstein, M.A., Achong, B.G. and Barr, Y.M. (1965) Morphological and biological studies on a virus in cultured lymphoblasts from Burkitt’s lymphoma. J. Exp. Med. 121: 761-770 PubMed link
  2.   Davey, J.B. et al. (1970) Is screening for cancer worth while? Results from a well-woman clinic for cancer detection. BMJ 3: 696-9 PubMed link
  3.   Allgood, P.C. et al. (2008) A case-control study of the impact of the East Anglian breast screening programme on breast cancer mortality. Br J Cancer 98: 206-9 PubMed link
Updated: 25 September 2009