This December marks Reframe’s 10th anniversary since being founded in 2012. Alongside us celebrating a decade of providing leading cancer support, we’re also celebrating cancer discovery having come a long way too.
In the last 10 years, researchers across the world have made major advances in how to prevent, diagnose, treat, and survive cancer. There are many new, more precise treatments being researched, such as gene therapies, vaccinations, and drugs.
Reflecting on the incredible steps forward since Reframe was founded, here’s a look at some of the significant advances from the past 10 years that are helping to save lives.
1. HPV vaccination programme giving cervical cancer successes
In the early 2000s, Cancer Research UK scientists in Glasgow first suggested that vaccines could be effective against the HPV virus. This led to the UK’s HPV vaccination programme which began in 2008. In 2021, Cancer Research UK researchers revealed that this programme has reduced cervical cancer rates by almost 90%.
2. Gene found to be a key player in assisting breast cancer to spread around the body
During the Covid pandemic, Dr Sara Sigismund and Prof Pier Paolo Di Fiore at the European Institute of Oncology in Italy helped to discover that a gene called EPN3 plays a crucial role in helping breast cancer to grow and spread around the body to other organs. The researchers have worked out exactly how this gene works and suggest that EPN3 could be used as a new target for the design of new breast cancer drugs.
3. The STAMPEDE trial has transformed the way prostate cancer is treatedRunning since 2005, the STAMPEDE trial has transformed the way prostate cancer is treated. Having recruited more than 11,000 patients, the chemotherapy drug docetaxel proved to increase survival for people with early prostate cancer, leading to 29 changes in clinical practice around the world. More recently in 2021, the trial progressed to now show that adding abiraterone and the steroid prednisolone to standard hormone therapy extended the lives of men whose prostate cancer had spread further.
Its innovative design – which allows for multiple treatment options to be tested at once and new therapies to be added as they’re developed – has also paved the way for other multi-arm trials for other cancers, which are currently being evaluated for NHS use.
4. Researchers highlighted the benefits of receiving palliative care early in cancer treatment
There are two types of cancer care – treatment directed at the disease and treatment, known as palliative care, which is focused on the person with the disease. Recent clinical trials have shown that when people with cancer receive both types of treatment at the same time, their symptoms are controlled better, they have less anxiety and depression, improved quality of life, and longer survival. Palliative care has recently become one of the fastest growing areas of health care.
5. NHS strikes deals for potentially life-saving breast cancer drugs
In July 2022, the NHS announced their 100th fast-tracked cancer drug, which thousands of breast cancer patients in England will benefit from each year.
Alpelisib, the life-extending drug made by Novartis, is to be used in combination with the hormone therapy Fulvestrant, to target the gene that causes fast-growing tumours. When used with Fulvestrant it works by blocking the gene’s ability to help cancer cells to survive and grow. One study showed half of the people who received the combination treatment after previous therapies were able to stop the growth of their cancer for six months.
Then in November 2022, the NHS announced it will roll out an innovative, potentially life-saving treatment for one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer, through funding from the Cancer Drugs Fund. Up to 1,600 women a year affected by high-risk triple-negative breast cancer will benefit. Pembrolizumab (brand name, Keytruda®) when used in combination with chemotherapy, reduces the chances of breast cancer progressing by almost two-fifths.
6. Researchers discover more about the microbiome’s influence on cancer
In recent years, researchers discovered that an unbalanced microbiome may influence metastasis, which is the spread of cancer to distant parts of the body. This close pairing of bacteria and cancer cells now gives researchers an opportunity to test whether antibiotics may slow or halt the spread of Fusobacterium-associated cancers.
The microbiome is a complex community of microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live on and in our bodies. When there’s a healthy mix of these microorganisms, they do a variety of tasks like help our immune system function and help our bodies digest food and absorb nutrients. When the microbiome mix becomes out of balance, it may lead to disease, including cancer.
7. NHS fast tracks new ‘game changing’ drug for lung cancer
March 2022 brought news of patients in England being the first in Europe to access Mobocertinib – the only precision drug available to treat a rare, mutation-driven, advanced-form of lung cancer for patients who have already received chemotherapy. The treatment will be available to around 100 eligible patients a year with the rare form of cancer that cannot be removed by surgery. This cancer type mainly affects younger people and non-smokers.
8. Clinical trials for new cancer vaccines are underway
Scientists are now starting clinical trials for a new cancer vaccine thanks to a recent research breakthrough from a team led by Associate Professor Kristen Radford in Queensland, Australia.
Earlier this year, the first patient in the UK was given the ‘vaccine’ for cancer in this pioneering clinical research trial, which aims to stop cancer returning. Taking place at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, the clinical research team have used an injection of a therapy tailor-made to the patient’s personal DNA, designed to help their own immune system ward off cancer permanently.
9. Two new types of immunotherapies were developed
At the forefront of emerging cancer research is the success of immunotherapy.
The development and improvement of a drug used to treat leukaemia and lymphoma in children and adults resulted from this development. CAR T-cell therapy (also called gene therapy) involves making changes to a patient’s T cells (a type of immune cell) in the lab so they can better fight cancer. With funding support from the American Cancer Society, the pioneering research involved the development and improvement of Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel), the first gene therapy approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) used to treat leukaemia and lymphoma.
Immune checkpoint inhibitors are another type of newly developed immunotherapy, which stops cancer cells from hiding from the immune system through DNA changes. Researchers have discovered that the more a tumour’s DNA changes, the more likely it is to respond to immunotherapy when combined with other treatments.
Researchers have also discovered that they can adapt immunotherapies as the cancer cells adapt and stop responding to drugs for better results.
10. The development and use of liquid biopsies, which is allowing scientists to make sense of ‘big data’
Over the past decade, liquid biopsies have drastically revolutionised the field of clinical oncology. Liquid biopsy is the testing of bodily fluids such as blood; these tests are less intrusive and provide more information than tissue biopsies. Liquid biopsies also have the potential to detect disease in the body following surgery to predict the risk of reoccurrence.
Scientists already know fragments of tumour DNA are released into the blood. Using DNA extracted from the blood of healthy patients and those with cancer, data mining is used to sort through genomic data to identify biomarkers linked to certain types of cancerous cells. This could give doctors an indicator of potential cancers before symptoms appear and can also help enhance the effectiveness of treatment.
The technology of liquid biopsies is still evolving, and its non-invasive nature promises to open new eras in clinical oncology.
Excitingly, this list is just a fraction of the research and discoveries that have happened over the last 10 years across the globe.
Rebecca Minton, Cancer Nurse Specialist at Reframe, said: “The developments in cancer over the past 10 years have been ground-breaking, making a real difference in outcomes for patients. The effort of researchers to continue working on life-saving diagnosis and treatment options is so important to deliver better outcomes for people going through cancer.”
At Reframe we want to do all we can to support as many people as possible through cancer. We help people through cancer by providing:
- Guidance about cancer – we have a team of Registered Nurses with extensive oncology experience who can take the time to attend to your needs or concerns at your pace.
- Practical support – we can help with absolutely anything that would make life easier such as chasing appointments, accessing benefits, and speaking to your employer.
- Emotional support – we're here to provide a safe space when you need someone to talk to about cancer.