Prevent: Reduce people’s risk of developing cancer

Population Research

We have a strong body of evidence on the key risk factors associated with cancer and the relative importance of different preventative interventions. Now we need to take full advantage of this insight, identifying and evaluating new approaches to empower people to reduce their risk in the UK and across the world.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot
Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London



Our approach

Work towards a tobacco-free UK

Smoking is by far the most important preventable cause of cancer in the world. Smoking rates, although declining in Britain, are still at 20% of the adult population, and around 150,000 children take up the habit every year. Our impact in this area could be dramatic – reducing the number of people smoking by just 1% could save 3,000 lives per year in the UK from cancer alone. We have a critical role to play in influencing tobacco legislation and changing attitudes to smoking.

We already have a strong track record of funding tobacco research, which has underpinned some of the major shifts in policy in recent generations, such as smoke-free legislation. Our ultimate ambition is to see a tobacco-free UK, with an adult smoking rate below 5%. We will lead an ambitious and coordinated research agenda – supporting behavioural, health services and targeted policy research to continue to reduce the number of people smoking. We will lobby governments and work with international partners to influence tobacco control on the global stage.

Develop and test chemopreventive agents

Along with lifestyle changes, chemopreventive strategies have significant life-saving potential. There is growing evidence to suggest aspirin could join the small number of drugs, such as tamoxifen, which have an established preventative effect against cancer. We need to understand more about aspirin’s underlying mechanisms and to identify subsets of patients prone to harmful effects such as upper gastrointestinal bleeding and ulceration.

We will play a decisive role in this area, supporting clinical and preclinical studies of aspirin and other chemopreventive agents, to determine optimum dosage and to help identify groups at increased risk of side effects.

Empower people to make lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of cancer

To successfully design and implement behavioural change interventions, we need a robust evidence base and rigorous evaluation, based on an in-depth understanding of human behaviour, societal issues and policy implications. We also need to offer the right kind of information and advice to empower people to make positive health choices. We will help develop, implement and evaluate novel interventions to change behaviour. We will bring together epidemiology, health economics, behavioural and policy research. We will also work with experts from other fields, such as social and consumer marketing, to see where we can apply the lessons they have already learned. Through our website, Cancer Awareness Roadshows and campaigns, we will continue to provide crucial information to empower people to make lifestyle changes.

Develop stratified approaches to prevention and screening

As we learn more about the links between genetic, lifestyle, environmental and phenotypic factors, these insights can be used to identify groups of people at the highest risk of developing cancer. This will facilitate the development of stratified prevention and screening strategies and ensure clinicians and public health professionals are targeting those at the highest risk, while reducing over-diagnosis. We will support research that seeks to apply a range of markers to more accurately define risk in key populations, as a basis for the development of targeted prevention or early detection algorithms.



Opportunities for your research

Innovation Workshop

We have a variety of grant funding schemes, events, training and resources to support cancer prevention research, and we can help you develop your research in this field wherever you are in your career.



Our progress

In our 2017 Progress Report, we review how we are accelerating research to achieve our ambitions, and the successes we have had so far. We've built on our strengths and continued to bring new perspectives into cancer research

We've launched eight new funding schemes to stimulate priority areas of research, and these have so far allocated over £140 million. We've more than doubled our spend on cancers with substantial unmet need, to £86 million in 2016/17. And we've invested across our UK-wide network of infrastructure, building capacity at our Centres and launching the new Francis Crick Institute, so that we continue to support an outstanding environment for research.


Diagnose more cancers earlier


Develop new cancer treatments


Make cancer treatments more effective

Explore more of our Research Strategy

Our full Research Strategy, launched in 2014, sets out our principles of people, partnership and collaboration, and the approaches we will take in delivering our objectives.

Browse our Research Strategy highlights  

Download the full Research Strategy (PDF)