Our research history

Thanks to research, more people are beating cancer than ever before. In the 1970s, only a quarter of people survived. Today, more than half will survive for at least ten years

Browse our timeline to find out how we’re making cancer history.

2013
Hunting cancer genes

A huge research effort reveals 80 new genetic variations that increase the risk of breast, ovarian and prostate cancers.

We reveal the potential of ‘liquid biopsies’ as a simple test to track the evolution of several types of cancer. 

Our researchers find that taking the breast cancer drug tamoxifen for 10 years rather than the recommended five halves the risk of the disease returning, while the drug anastrozole halves the chances of breast cancer developing in women at high risk.  

We launch the revolutionary TRACERx study, tracking how lung cancers evolve within the body, as well as a groundbreaking new clinical trial for children with neuroblastoma

 

More progress from this year

Lung cancer campaign could save lives 

Pushing hard for standardised tobacco packs a move that has now been supported by an independent review

DNA untwister is a new tumour suppressor

 

 

2012
Rewriting the rule book

Our scientists’ discovery that breast cancer is 10 separate diseases makes headline news around the world, rewriting the rule-book on what we know about it. 

We announce a groundbreaking study showing how cancers evolve within the body, helping to explain why they can be so difficult to treat

Our researchers show that a combination of two drugs is far more effective against pancreatic cancer than each one on its own  – both are now being tested together in an early stage clinical trial.

A major trial funded by Cancer Research UK shows that adding chemo to radiotherapy can halve the risk of bladder cancer coming back after treatment, changing the way that people with the disease are treated.

 

More progress from this year

New ‘gold standard’ for thyroid cancer radiotherapy 

Progress in childhood kidney cancer Wilms’ tumour 

“Stop-start” hormone therapy better for prostate cancer 

 

 

2011
Unlocking cancer’s secrets

Our scientists make progress in deciphering the molecular ‘signature’ of prostate cancer, and find a new ‘accelerator’ gene that drives the growth of breast cancer

We make a crucial connection between cancer and inflammation, taking an important step forward in understanding how the two are linked. 

We launch an important new trial to find out if a ‘sponge on a string’ can detect the early signs of oesophageal cancer. 

We join the International Cancer Genome Consortium, reading the DNA code of hundreds of prostate and oesophageal tumours to unlock cancer’s genetic secrets. 
 

 

More progress from this year

Stratified Medicine Programme launches, testing tailored treatments for cancer 

Our campaigners help push through sunbed law 

New ovarian cancer gene found 

Potential childhood leukaemia treatment discovered

 

 

2010
Bowel screening success and childhood leukaemia boost

We announce the results of a major trial of a new bowel cancer screening technique, known as  bowel scope, which could save thousands of lives and is now being rolled out. 

We show that a new treatment can improve survival by more than 50% for children whose leukaemia has come back after treatment. 

Our researchers discover the secret behind melanoma’s ‘self-healing’ powers, which could help tailor treatment in future. 

Our trial shows that a new drug combination can increase survival from gall bladder and bile duct cancers, highlighting the importance of research into these less common diseases. 

 

More progress from this year

Liver surgery boosts bowel cancer survival

Fewer, larger doses of radiotherapy better for breast cancer

Cancer-spotting ‘watchman’ cells found in the immune system

 

2009
Developing kinder radiotherapy and tracking down genes

We show that a more targeted radiotherapy technique, called IMRT, can treat head and neck cancer with fewer side effects. 

Our researchers find new gene changes linked to breast, ovarian, prostate and bowel cancers, as well as childhood brain tumours

Using cutting-edge imaging techniques, our researchers spy on moving cancer cells and identify possible targets for new treatments

Our scientists make an important step forward in understanding the link between the female sex hormone oestrogen and cancer. 

 

More progress from this year

Immune system ‘danger’ signal found

Old drug could have new tricks for hereditary bowel cancer

New route to leukaemia discovered

 

2008
Brain tumour genes and rogue stem cells

Our scientists track down genes linked to three types of childhood brain tumour – meningioma, ependymoma and pilocytic astrocytoma.

We launch the first UK trial of PARP inhibitor drugs, designed to target breast and ovarian cancer in women who have inherited a faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. 

Our researchers figure out why some breast cancers become resistant to the drug tamoxifen, paving the way for more effective long-term treatments in the future

We show how rogue stem cells in the bowel can lead to cancer  , and find a faulty gene ‘trigger’ that makes the disease grow aggressively.  

Our scientists finally find vital DNA repair ‘scissors’ after an 18-year long hunt, revealing more about how faults in this process can lead to cancer.  

 

More progress from this year

Viruses in disguise could fight ovarian cancer

Major breakthrough in understanding DNA ‘rings’

Faster chemo increases survival from neuroblastoma

Tiny worms reveal ‘protector of the genome’

 

2007
Smoke-free UK and trial successes

Thousands of our supporters get involved in the successful campaign to bring in smoke-free legislation, which comes into effect in the UK in 2007 – a move that will prevent thousands of premature deaths over the next decade. 

Our researchers help to run one of the largest ever clinical trials testing the benefits of chemotherapy for bowel cancer. The trial showed for the first time that chemotherapy could help to improve survival for people whose cancer was less advanced, and changed the way that patients are treated. 

We home in on new breast and bowel cancer genes in groundbreaking studies. 

Working together with the Brain Tumour Charity, our clinical trial shows that using chemotherapy to delay or avoid radiotherapy in children under three with ependymoma reduces the risk of health problems later in life. 

We show that white blood cell donations could be used to treat transplant patients who develop particular cancers related to virus infection. 

 

More progress from this year

Our new Cambridge Research Institute is opened by the Queen

Imaging technique could tell if treatment works within days

Unstable chromosomes are key to drug resistance

 

2006
Better screening and 3-D structures

We develop a way to identify groups of people with a higher risk of bowel cancer due to genetic variations. This could lead to new measures, such as more targeted screening, to prevent the disease for thousands of people in the future. 

We show that a revolutionary way to read mammograms with the help of a computer could free up time for hundreds of medical experts and speed the breast screening process.  

Our researchers unravel the three-dimensional structure of a protein called Hsp90, which is important in many types of cancer. Scientists are now developing and testing new cancer treatments based on this discovery.  

We discover how a faulty gene leads to kidney cancer, paving the way for future treatments for the disease. 

We launch a network of Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres (ECMCs) across the UK, designed to get new cancer treatments into clinical trials in patients as quickly as possible. 

 

More progress from this year

Rogue gene linked to breast and childhood cancer link

Molecular ‘handcuffs’ could lead to future cancer therapy

Overcoming chemotherapy resistance in lung cancer

 

2005
BRCA breakthrough and new surgery techniques

We show that cancer cells caused by faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes can be killed by drugs called PARP inhibitors. These treatments are now being tested in clinical trials with promising results, and could potentially treat other types of cancer too.  

Our scientists discover that screening could reduce bowel cancer rates by up to 80 per cent in people with a moderate family history of the disease. 

We show that a  technique called sentinel node biopsy can reduce the side effects of breast cancer surgery.  This is now the preferred way of finding out whether breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.  

Our scientists discover a test that can help doctors identify children who need more intensive treatment for medulloblastoma, the most common type of childhood brain tumour. 

We launch national campaigns highlighting how to reduce the risk of cancer by changing lifestyle  and raising awareness of mouth cancer.   

 

More progress from this year

Virus tricks harnessed to target cells

Bladder cancer treatment test

Cells’ energy factories linked to cancer

 

2004
Smoking risks and progress in pancreatic cancer

We show that giving pancreatic cancer patients chemotherapy along with surgery can treble survival, changing the way that patients are treated. 

A unique 50-year study that we helped to fund shows that smokers die on average 10 years earlier than non-smokers. But stopping at any age - even in later life - cuts the risk, highlighting the importance of quitting. 

Our researchers find out how a virus causes a rare type of cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma, which tends to affect people with HIV. It was also our researchers who made the link between the virus and the cancer, back in 1990

Our scientists shed light on the secret of cancer cells’ ‘eternal life’, pointing towards potential targets for future treatments. 

 

More progress from this year

Brain tumour scan monitors treatment response

Radon gas increases lung cancer risk

Miscarriages and abortions don’t increase cancer risk

 

2003
HRT, HPV and a missing link

A study of over one million women reveals that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases the risk of breast cancer. And we show that radiotherapy is more effective than tamoxifen for treating the earliest stages of breast cancer. 

Our researchers show that testing women for human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer, could improve the effectiveness of screening.   Today, HPV testing is part of the NHS cervical cancer screening programme

Our scientists discover a gene that is the ‘missing link’ between non-inherited and inherited forms of breast and ovarian cancers, helping us to understand how they develop and paving the way for future treatments.   

We fund a clinical trial showing that adding chemotherapy to radiotherapy can help improve survival from medulloblastoma, the most common type of brain tumour in children. 

We prove that high-dose chemotherapy is more effective than lower doses for treating multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow. 

 

More progress from this year

Turning immune cells into cancer killers in on ovarian cancer gene

Microbeams could be future cancer zappers

Rare condition sheds light on DNA defences

 

2002
The start of Cancer Research UK

Cancer Research UK is born from the merger of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and The Cancer Research Campaign. 

Our scientists find that faults in a gene called BRAF are involved in more than half of all cases of melanoma – the most dangerous form of skin cancer. The work has led to the rapid discovery and development of treatments designed to block BRAF, one of which – vemurafenib (Zelboraf) – is now available for patients on the NHS. 

Our researchers find a molecule in urine that reveals the presence of bladder cancer.  Today, their discovery is being developed into tests for prostate and bladder cancer that could help to save many lives by diagnosing the diseases earlier

We show how bowel cancer cells break away from a tumour and spread round the body. 

We find a new gene linked to inherited breast cancer, shedding more light on how genes influence cancer risk. 

 

More progress from this year

Cracking the genetic code of yeast

Lighting up Wilms’ tumour

New drug combination for mesothelioma lung cancer

 

2001
Fruit, veg and a Nobel Prize

Our researchers Sir Paul Nurse and Sir Tim Hunt receive a share of the Nobel Prize for Medicine for their research in the 1980s. They discovered the ‘engine’ that drives all cells – including cancer cells – to grow and multiply, paving the way for future cancer treatments. 

In a study looking at thousands of people, our researchers discover a clear relationship between a diet rich in fruit and vegetables and a reduced risk of life-threatening illnesses, including cancer. 

We show that it’s possible to freeze samples of tissue from a woman’s ovaries before chemotherapy and successfully transplant them afterwards, opening the door to techniques to help preserve women’s fertility after cancer treatment. 

We launch the first UK trial of a vaccine against the virus that causes cervical cancer. Today, a vaccination programme has been rolled out for girls across the UK, which should save many lives in the future.   

We play a vital role in setting up and leading the National Cancer Research Institute, bringing together researchers, doctors, patients and funding organisations across the UK to make faster, more co-ordinated progress in beating cancer. 

2000
Lymphoma trials and new gene links

We support early trials of rituximab (Mabthera) – a drug that has made a big difference to survival for people with certain types of lymphoma. 

We showed that faults in a gene called BRCA2 are responsible for around one in 20 cases of prostate cancer that run in families , and track down the location of a gene called TGCT-1, linked to testicular cancer.  

We figure out an important step in how damaged DNA is ‘unpackaged’ so it can be repaired. Damaged DNA is a key cause of cancer, so discovering how it is fixed, and what happens if it isn’t, is crucial to understanding how cancer starts and how to tackle it more effectively. 

Our award-winning CancerHelp website relaunches, providing information about different types of cancer to patients, families and friends. 

Our scientists uncover some of the lifestyle factors linked to HPV infection and cervical cancer, particularly smoking, having a high number of sexual partners and starting to have sex at a younger age. 

Make a donation