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

Our progress and achievements in the 2000s

An iPod from the 2000sOnce we'd escaped the threat of the millennium bug, the "noughties" brought us accelerating advances in technology, and an increasing need to keep it clean and green.

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and in London fuelled an increased fear of terrorism, and thousands protested against the US-led invasion of Iraq.

We now listen to music from around the globe on our mp3 players, from hip-hop to Mongolian throat-singing, while children and adults alike lap up the Harry Potter novels. Anything to distract from the current financial climate...

Again our scientists increase the pace of progress, publishing thousands more papers in peer-reviewed journals. And we continue to push forward with our world-class research, moving ever closer to our vision of beating cancer.

Here are just a few of the highlights from the decade.

We are beating cancer

Today more than 300,000 people are newly diagnosed with cancer each year. The overall cancer death rate continues to fall but cancer still causes one in four deaths every year.

Breast cancer survival rates continue to improve – these days more than three-quarters of women diagnosed will survive their disease for 10 years or more.

Lung cancer incidence rates in men have dropped by 10 per cent since the year 2000 alone. The female lung cancer rate is still increasing slightly, having risen by about 45 per cent from the mid 70s to late 80s, but only increased by around 8 per cent since the year 2000. Both these patterns reflect smoking trends of 20 to 30 years ago.

Bowel cancer survival rates have doubled since the 1970s. Now half of patients diagnosed with bowel cancer will survive their disease for at least ten years.

Cancer Research UK is formed

Cancer Research UK logoIn 2002 the Cancer Research Campaign and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund merged to form Cancer Research UK, one hundred years after the original cancer charity was founded.

Smokefree UK

Thanks in part to the campaigning work of the charity and its supporters, smoke-free legislation was brought in across the UK in 2007, making workplaces and enclosed public spaces healthier - and more pleasant - for everyone.

Our scientists also published a report showing that lifelong smokers lose around ten years of life expectancy and all the benefits of increased longevity that come from improved healthcare. 1

Find out more about smoking and cancer risk on our Healthy Living pages.

New research institutes

The Cambridge Research InstituteIn 2007 the new Cambridge Research Institute opened on the site of Addenbrooke's Hospital. The institute is home to almost 200 scientists working to understand the fundamental biology of cancer and convert their discoveries into new treatments.

And in 2008, the Cancer Research UK MRC Gray Institute for Radiation Oncology and Biology opened in Oxford, heralding a new era of research into ways to improve radiotherapy for people with cancer.

Find out more about our five flagship institutes across the UK.

Hormones and cancer

Our Million Women Study, started in 1997, published results showing that current or recent use of certain types of hormone replacement therapy increases a women’s risk of breast cancer, especially when taken over a prolonged time. 2

And a Cancer Research UK-funded study proved beyond doubt that ovarian cancers can be prevented by the long-term use of the contraceptive pill. 3 Members of the medical community have since called for widespread over-the-counter access to the pill, which they predict, based on our research, could save the lives of tens of thousands of women.

Diet and cancer

A map showing the sountired participating in EPICWe began helping to fund the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), the largest ever study of diet and health. Early results link a diet high in red and processed meat 4 and low in fibre 5 to increased bowel cancer risk. 

Watch a video about EPIC, and find out more about diet and cancer risk.

Preventing breast cancer

Our scientists started a major new breast cancer prevention study. IBIS II is studying the effectiveness of anastrozole, a newer drug that seems to cause fewer side-effects than tamoxifen. 

Find out more about IBIS and watch a video about the trial on our MyProjects site.

Improving pancreatic cancer treatment

Cancer Research UK funded the GEMCAP trial for people with advanced pancreatic cancer. 6 This provided the first evidence that giving gemcitabine and capecitabine together was more beneficial than gemcitabine alone, providing an average of six months extra life.

Hunting cancer genes

A scientist working with computersCancer Research UK funded scientists made a series of breakthroughs pinpointing new regions of our genome linked to breast7, bowel8, prostate9, lung10 and brain11 tumours. These gene variations could potentially be used as genetic markers for predicting risk and in screening.

Find out more about hunting for cancer genes on our Science Update blog.

New drug for hereditary cancers

We  began crucial clinical trials of a new type of drug called a ‘PARP inhibitor’, the result of more than a decade’s work by Cancer Research UK-funded scientists. 12 Over that time their research has progressed from understanding the basic biology of the protein to developing a targeted treatment for cancer patients with inherited BRCA gene faults.

At the moment, PARP inhibitors are being tested in clinical trials involving patients with hereditary breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. But researchers think the drugs may have benefits for other types of cancer too.

Read more about the potential benefits of PARP inhibitors on our Science Update blog.

Better radiotherapy for breast cancer

Results from the Cancer Research UK-funded Standardisation of Radiotherapy trial (START) suggested that using fewer but larger doses of radiotherapy is just as effective as the standard radiotherapy treatment used for treating early breast cancer. 13 This means breast cancer patients can now benefit from a shorter treatment schedule with fewer hospital visits as a result of this research.

And we’re still going strong

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

You can read about our achievements in 2008 in cancer biology, cancer prevention and clinical research on our blog, as well as finding out about our recent political achievements.

No Error

Rate this page:
Submit rating
Rated 1 out of 5 based on 1 votes
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.   Doll, R. et al. (2004) Mortality in relation to smoking: 50 years’ observations on male British doctors. BMJ 328: 1519 PubMed link
  2.   Beral, V. (2003) Breast cancer and hormone-replacement therapy in the Million Women Study. Lancet 362: 419-27 PubMed link
  3.   Collaborative Group on Epidemiological Studies of Ovarian Cancer (2008) Ovarian cancer and oral contraceptives: collaborative reanalysis of data from 45 epidemiological studies including 23,257 women with ovarian cancer and 87,303 controls. Lancet 371: 303-14  PubMed link
  4.   Norat, T. et al. (2005) Meat, fish, and colorectal cancer risk: the European Prospective Investigation into cancer and nutrition. J Natl Cancer Inst 97: 906-16 PubMed link
  5.   Bingham, S.A. et al. (2003a) Dietary fibre in food and protection against colorectal cancer in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC): an observational study. Lancet 361: 1496-501 PubMed link
  6.   Neoptolemos, J.P. et al. (2005) Phase III randomised comparison of gemcitabine (GEM) with gemcitabine plus capecitabine (GEM-CAP) in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. Pancreas 31: 459 Journal link
  7.   Easton, D, et al. (2007) Genome-wide association study identifies novel breast cancer susceptibility loci. Nature 447: 1087-93 PubMed link
  8.   Zanke, B.W. et al. (2007) Genome-wide association scan identifies a colorectal cancer susceptibility locus on chromosome 8q24. Nature Genet. 39: 989-94 PubMed link, Broderick, P. et al. (2007) A genome-wide association study shows that common alleles of SMAD7 influence colorectal cancer risk. Nature Genet. 39: 1315-7 PubMed link and Jaeger, E. et al. (2008) Common genetic variants at the CRAC1 (HMPS) locus on chromosome 15q13.3 influence colorectal cancer risk. Nature Genet. 40: 26-8 PubMed link
  9.   Eeles, RA, et al. (2008) Multiple newly identified loci associated with prostate cancer susceptibility. Nature Genet. 40: 316-21 PubMed link
  10.   Amos, C.I. et al. (2008) Genome-wide association scan of tag SNPs identifies a susceptibility locus for lung cancer at 15q25.1. Nature Genet. 40: 616-22 PubMed link
  11.   Bethke, L. et al. (2008) Comprehensive analysis of DNA repair gene variants and risk of meningioma. J. Natl Cancer Inst. 100: 270-6 PubMed link
  12.   Farmer, H. et al. (2005) Targeting the DNA repair defect in BRCA mutant cells as a therapeutic strategy. Nature 434: 917-21 PubMed link
  13.   START Trialists Group (2008) The UK Standardisation of Breast Radiotherapy (START) Trial A of radiotherapy hypofractionation for treatment of early breast cancer: a randomised trial. Lancet Oncol. 9: 331-41 PubMed link
Updated: 25 September 2009