Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter

Our progress and achievements in the 1990s

Dolly the cloned sheep from the 1990s The 1990s were a decade of booming growth and new technology. CDs, personal computers and digital cameras took off, along with the explosive rise of the internet.

We were introduced to the Simpsons and the cast of Friends - with thousands of women copying the "Rachel" hairdo. Blur and Oasis battled it out in the Britpop wars, and Nirvana brought grunge style over from the US.

The decade brought us Dolly the cloned sheep, a New Labour government, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. Environmental issues started to rise on the public's radar, while in Europe the state of Yugoslavia collapsed, sparking years of conflict in the region.

As always, our scientists were hard at work in the 1990s, finding new ways to diagnose, prevent and treat cancer. Here are some highlights from that time.

Cancer rates in the 1990s

More than 40,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer each year for the first time in the 1990s, with rates of more than 100 women diagnosed with the disease for every 100,000 women in the population. In 1997, breast cancer became the most common cancer for all people in the UK, even though 99 per cent of breast cancers occur in women.

In this decade, non-Hodgkin lymphoma incidence rate increased by a fifth, moving from the 13th to 7th most common cancer. And five-year survival from Hodgkin lymphoma improved from about 50 per cent in the early 70s to 80 per cent by the end of the 90s.

One-year survival from lung cancer increased from 15 per cent in the early 70s to nearly 25 per cent by the end of the 90s. In 1998, lung cancer ceased to be the most common men's cancer in the UK with prostate cancer taking the lead instead.

Finding breast cancer genes

A researcher looking at a photograph of a DNA sequence.Professor Doug Easton headed an international team of researchers who show that the inherited breast cancer gene, BRCA 1, is responsible for the majority of families with multiple cases of breast and ovarian cancer. 1

Cancer Research UK-funded scientists, working with researchers worldwide, also discovered the BRCA2 gene. 2 Faults in this gene are associated with a significantly increased risk of breast cancer including breast cancer in men, and ovarian and prostate cancer.

Understanding lifestyle

In this decade we helped to launch several large-scale studies investigating the effects of lifestyle on cancer risk, including hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and diet. These studies underpin our health campaigns and cancer prevention messages.

Find out more about lifestyle and cancer risk from our Healthy Living pages.

New radiotherapy technique

We developed a new type of radiotherapy known as CHART in the 1990s, which delivers radiation in many small doses over a much shorter period of time than conventional treatments. Trials have shown that CHART improves survival of patients with the most common type of lung cancer. 3

Find out more about our impact in radiotherapy.

Smoking-related deaths

Professor Sir Richard Peto was the first person to report the magnitude of the growing worldwide epidemic of tobacco deaths. 4 Lung cancer is now the most common cancer worldwide, and the number of people diagnosed with the disease has doubled since 1975.

Find out  more about the links between smoking and cancer.

CancerHelp UK launched

CancerHelp UK, our award-winning website was first launched in 1995, providing information about different types of cancer to patients, families and friends.

Tamoxifen benefits

Our scientists showed that younger patients with breast cancer also benefit from treatment with tamoxifen, and that this could save tens of thousands of lives each year worldwide. 5

Infections and cancer

We teamed up with others to show that the Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes the vast majority of cervical cancers worldwide, overturning previous studies that had underestimated the link. 6

Our researchers first revealed the link between Helicobacter pylori bacteria and stomach cancer in studies in rural China in 1990 7 and in middle-aged men in England and Wales in 1991. 8 Studies are now under way to see if antibiotics can treat the infection and prevent stomach cancer.

New prostate cancer drug

We helped to develop a new drug called abiraterone that is now being studied as a treatment for advanced hormone-resistance prostate and breast cancer. 9 The early development of the drug, including the first trials in patients, was carried out under the direction of our Drug Development Office.

Read more about the early trial results on our Science Update blog.

Treating pancreatic cancer

We funded the largest ever trial for people with operable pancreatic cancer, ESPAC 1, which showed that giving chemotherapy to patients after surgery could help reduce the risk of cancer returning or delay it. 10 This has resulted in a worldwide change in the way that pancreatic cancer is treated, helping to extend the lives of people with the disease. 11

And we’re still going strong

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

No Error

Rate this page:
Submit rating
Rate this page
Rate this page for no comments box
Please enter feedback to continue submitting
Send feedback
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team


  1.   Easton, D.F. et al. (1993) Genetic linkage analysis in familial breast and ovarian cancer: results from 214 families. Am. J. Human Genet. 52; 678-701 PubMed link
  2.   Wooster et al. (1994) Localization of a breast cancer susceptibility gene, BRCA2, to chromosome 13q12-13. Science 265; 5181: 2088-90 PubMed link
  3.   Saunders, M. et al. (1999) Continuous, hyperfractionated, accelerated radiotherapy (CHART) versus conventional radiotherapy in non-small cell lung cancer: mature data from the randomised multicentre trial. Radiother. Oncol. 52: 137-48 PubMed link
  4.   Peto, R. et al. (1992) Mortality from tobacco in developed countries: indirect estimation from national vital statistics. Lancet 339: 1268-78 PubMed link
  5.   Early Breast Cancer Trialists’ Collaborative Group (1998) Tamoxifen for early breast cancer: an overview of the randomised trials. Lancet 351;1451-67  PubMed link
  6.   Bosch, F.X., et al. (1995) Prevalence of human papillomavirus in cervical cancer: a worldwide perspective. J. Natl Cancer. Inst. 87; 11: 796-802 PubMed link
  7.   Forman, D. et al. (1990) Geographic association of Helicobacter pylori antibody prevalence and gastric cancer mortality in rural China. Int. J. Cancer 46: 608-11 PubMed link
  8.   Forman, D. et al. (1991) Association between infection with Helicobacter pylori and risk of gastric cancer: evidence from a prospective investigation. BMJ 302: 1302-5 PubMed link
  9.   Potter, G.A. et al. (1995) Novel steroidal inhibitors of human cytochrome P45017a (17a-hydroxylase-C17,20-lyase): potential agents for the treatment of prostatic cancer. J. Med. Chem. 38: 2463-2471 PubMed link
  10.  Neoptolemos, J.P. et al. (2001) Adjuvant chemoradiotherapy and chemotherapy in resectable pancreatic cancer: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet 358: 1576-85 PubMed link
  11.   Neoptolemos, J.P. et al. (2004) A randomized trial of chemoradiotherapy and chemotherapy after resection of pancreatic cancer. N. Engl. J. Med. 18: 1200-10 PubMed link
Updated: 25 September 2009