THE BLOG
01/05/2014 10:17 BST | Updated 01/07/2014 06:59 BST

Cancer Survival Rates - We're Getting Better at It

This week we've heard how half of people in England and Wales now being diagnosed with cancer will survive at least a decade.

The recent increase in media stories about cancer research and the upward trend in terms of survival statistics, demonstrate the progress and impact of work which is being carried out in cancer research laboratories around the world. The improved statistics are clear justification of the billions of pounds that are currently being spent on cancer research in the quest for earlier and more accurate diagnosis - particularly for hard to pinpoint cancers.

We know that patients have a better chance of being treated successfully and surviving for ten years or more if the disease is identified earlier.

The UK continues to lag behind the rest of Europe in this area, and so the work which is focused on more accurate diagnosis is critical for impacting on patient survival. However, the same work can also lead to the development of more personalised treatments and therapies, such as immunotherapeutic cancer vaccines.

Nationally and internationally, the collaborative work between cancer research specialists is moving us closer to understanding the complexities of a multitude of cancers. The work is intense, and requires large investments in cutting edge technology, not to mention the support of world-class scientists who are dedicated to the cause.

However, it is not just survival rates that are important; improved quality of that extended life is a key factor that drives career scientists like my colleagues at the John van Geest Cancer Research Centre at Nottingham Trent University and our clinical partners at various medical institutions within the region. Currently, the balance between extension of life and quality of life is a tough balancing act for both patients and clinicians to get right.

The temptation to get a few precious extra weeks of life with loved ones by having an extra course of chemotherapy can sadly often leave patients with extremely poor quality of life.

Immunotherapies such as cancer vaccines are the next logical step for the treatment of all types of cancers. Such approaches work to stimulate the body's own immune system in fighting cancer, but with none of the side effects that are experienced from cytotoxic drugs, or the obvious impact that major surgery and radiotherapy can have on the body.

Many of the leading cancer research centres are currently trialling cancer vaccines, with new scientific papers in this field being published with increasing frequency. The next few years will almost certainly see a number of these immunotherapies and treatments becoming widely available for a variety of different cancers.

Our own research into breast and prostate cancers at the John van Geest Cancer Research Centre has identified several new biomarkers which have the potential to improve the management of patients with cancer by directing them towards the most effective drugs. It has also supported the development of new vaccines that are displaying encouraging characteristics in pre-clinical models.

These experimental studies are continuously supported by our strong links with colleagues in the local hospitals. These clinical links ensure that we are answering the most important clinical questions and will allow the work to be translated into the clinic for direct patient benefit as quickly as possible.

There is talk of a tipping point and the view that cancer is beginning to be seen as less of a death sentence and more of a chronic condition.

Although we have, and are continuing to develop, the skills that are required to make this a reality, there is still some way to go and many more clinical trials to undertake before we get there.

For the good of mankind, it is vital that funding and support for this ambitious work continues.