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Our progress and achievements in the 1970s

A hippie van from the 1970sThe 70s were a time of turbulence as an energy crisis led to a three-day working week for many.

The UK went decimal, replacing shillings with pounds and pence, while violence flared in Northern Ireland and England in the struggle between loyalists and unionists.

Hippies grew their hair long and wore tie-dye, kids rocked out to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, while the Sex Pistols outraged many with their punk antics.

In labs and hospitals across the UK, our researchers continued to search for new ways to beat cancer. Here are some highlights from that time.

Cancer rates in the 1970s

During the 1970s, overall cancer incidence and mortality rates remained fairly stable, with no real changes seen for breast or bowel cancer, or rates of lung cancer in men. However, rates of lung cancer in women increased, reflecting the post-war rise in female smoking.

Incidence and mortality rates for non-Hodgkin lymphoma rose in the 70s, while death rates for Hodgkin lymphoma fell by a third in this decade, similar to the 25 per cent drop in death rates seen for testicular cancer. 

In the 1970s, five-year survival from testicular cancer improved from 69 per cent to 78 per cent, the biggest change seen for any cancer, for any decade. Today testicular cancer five-year survival has reached an impressive 98 per cent - this is partly thanks to the drug cisplatin (see below).

In the 1970s around 900 children died of cancer each year - today the number is fewer than 300, thanks to improved treatments developed through research.

Finding p53

Professor Sir David Lane - now Cancer Research UK's Chief Scientist - discovered the p53 protein, which is faulty or inactivated in many cancers. 1 This fundamental discovery paved the way for treatments that are being tested in clinical trials today

There's more about Professor Lane and p53 on our Science Update blog.


Our scientists were among the first to show that the drug cisplatin had strong activity against cancer. 2 The vast majority of men with advanced testicular cancer now survive the disease thanks to treatment with cisplatin in combination with other drugs.

Our first Nobel Prize

Renato Dulbecco Dr Renato Dulbecco, Deputy Research Director of our London Research Institute during the 70s, shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work on how viruses can convert normal cells into cancer cells.

Treating Hodgkin's lymphoma

In the 1970s we made a major breakthrough in the treatment of Hodgkin's lymphoma. The four-drug treatment, known as MVPP, was used extensively in the UK for many years and helped to improve survival. 3

Developing expertise

Old-fashioned scientistsIn the 1970s, Cancer Research UK worked in partnership with the NHS to set up five medical oncology departments to stimulate research on cancer medicines and develop expertise. 

This move established medical oncology as a new clinical specialty in the UK. Our first centres were established at St Bart's Hospital and at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, now the largest cancer centre in Europe.

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.   Lane, D.P. & Crawford, L.V. (1979) T antigen is bound to a host protein in SV40-transformed cells. Nature 278: 261-3 PubMed link
  2.   Connors, T.A. et al. (1972) New platinum complexes with anti-tumour activity. Chem Biol Interact 5: 415-24 PubMed link
  3.   Sutcliffe, S.B. et ak. (1978) MVPP chemotherapy regimen for advanced Hodgkin's disease. BMJ 1(6114): 679-83 PubMed link
Updated: 25 September 2009