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Science Against Cancer: 5 Advancements in 5 Years


Science against cancer: 5 advancements in 5 years

How Do Viruses Make Us Sick?

Cancer care is constantly evolving, with thousands of UK scientists dedicated to finding new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the condition.1,2,3

In the last 5 years alone there have been many promising developments. Here’s just 5 of them:  

1. A boost in public awareness is helping to catch cancer earlier

Our knowledge around cancer is increasing thanks to a number of initiatives. These include:  

National Health Campaigns 
Run by the NHS and cancer charities, cancer campaigns highlight potential symptoms of cancer and encourage people to contact their GP if they notice any of these. These campaigns have led to an increased number of people coming forward for cancer checks in recent years.4

Story sharing  
Talking openly about cancer can help save lives. Dubbed the ‘Fry and Turnbull effect’, it’s thought that the sharing of personal experiences from Stephen Fry and the late Bill Turnbull helped prostate cancer become one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in England. According to data collected by Public Health England (PHE), there were more cancers diagnosed in men than women in 2018 - a decade earlier than expected.5,6

Another notable effort came from the late Dame Deborah James. Her tireless campaigning, where she shared her own cancer experience with unflinching honesty, saw referrals for bowel cancer reach an all-time high.7


2. Advances in early diagnosis could help make cancer more treatable

More people are being diagnosed with cancer at an earlier stage than ever before, largely thanks to improvements in the way it is diagnosed. Finding cancer at an earlier stage can help to make it more treatable.8

New NHS initiatives are putting cancer checks at the heart of local communities and allowing people to get checked before scheduling a visit with their GP. These include: lung scanning trucks offering screening for those most at risk of lung cancer, high-street cancer checks in local pharmacies, and cancer symptom hotlines.8,9

The NHS "Targeted Lung Health Checks" are actively available for those aged 55 to 74 who currently or have previously smoked cigarettes.10 Those eligible are invited, via a letter or phone call from the NHS, to make an appointment to discuss health and lifestyle to find out if patients are at risk of developing lung cancer.10 Click here to find out more information about the programme. 
At-home screening kits, such as the home testing kit for bowel cancer, are being sent automatically to those that are in high-risk groups, improving access to tests and ensuring more cases can be caught earlier.11

If someone is suspected to have cancer, there are now over 90 community diagnostic centres across the UK, offering Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Computed Tomography (CT) scans and other services closer to people’s homes.9

Read more about cancer screening.

3. Acceleration in genomic medicine is helping to target treatments

A genome is our complete set of genetic instructions; it is what makes us who we are, so every person has a different genome. Technological advances mean that, for the first time ever, the NHS can read the full length of the human genome. The NHS is the first clinical service in the world to offer whole genome sequencing as part of routine care.  Currently, this is available for patients who could receive the greatest clinical benefits, such as children with rare genetic disorders, children with cancer, and adults suffering from certain conditions or cancers.12,13,14 

Cancer genomics is the study of genomic changes in cancer cells. By better understanding these, we may have greater insight into prevention, early detection, treatment and whether the cancer will come back. This could allow for more precise treatments that focus on someone’s specific type of cancer rather than simply where it is in the body. This means people could benefit from individualised treatments based on the features of their unique cancer.15

Genomic screening can also tell people if they have a higher risk of developing cancers that may be inherited, and how this might impact their family members. Referrals are made by a hospital specialist for those considered to be at genetic risk.15,16

In the future, scientists hope to see if DNA changes in our blood can detect cancer at an earlier stage and potentially be used as a national screening tool. The NHS has also committed to offering genomic testing to all people with cancer in the future as part of their Long Term Plan.15, 17

4. Cancer treatments are becoming more personalised

Scientific advancements mean doctors can now look for abnormalities within cancer cells and match them up with treatments that can specifically target them.18

Immunotherapy modulates a person’s own immune system to identify and target their cancer. This may be given by itself, or in combination with other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy. In the last few years, immunotherapy has become a standard treatment for some types of cancer, and it is still in clinical trials for other cancers.19

Another highly personalised type of immunotherapy treatment is CAR-T cell therapy which uses a person’s own white blood cells to locate and help destroy cancer cells. There is ongoing research to help expand this to other types of cancer including a relatively new form of immunotherapy, CAR-T cell therapy - a potential treatment option for children with leukemia, adults with lymphoma, and other forms of cancer through clinical trials. 20

Great strides have also been made in targeted therapies for certain types of cancer. Targeted treatment includes monoclonal antibodies, a type of targeted drug therapy that works in different ways to kill the cancer cell or stop it from growing, and small molecule inhibitors that can successfully enter the central nervous system. Clinical trials for targeted therapies across a large number of different cancer types are ongoing. 21,22,23,24

5. The potential of artificial intelligence in cancer care

Artificial intelligence (AI) is when computers are able to perform tasks requiring human intelligence. AI is having an impact on all areas of society, and healthcare is no exception.25

When it comes to cancer, AI can potentially speed up diagnosis with capabilities to see small, hard to detect signs of cancer. In the UK, AI technology is being evaluated in prostate cancer and breast cancer, among others.26, 27, 28

With the ability to process large amount of information, AI models are also driving cancer treatment discoveries including in pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer and leukaemia.26, 29

With an increase in awareness and early detection, new tools to diagnose and treat cancer, developments in AI and personalised treatments, it’s an potentially promising time for cancer innovation. As scientists continue to make strides in improving cancer diagnosis and treatment, we look forward to seeing what the next 5 years have in store.  

Looking forward

Cancer survival rates in the UK have improved over recent decades, with 1 year survival rates increasing from 65.6% in 2005 to 74.6% in 2020.30 However, the UK currently falls behind comparible countries when it comes to cancer care.30 Pfizer is supporting the UK's vision to enhance care by focussing on speeding up patient access to cutting edge treatments and therapies, helping to close the gap in equalities to cancer care. 

Our scientists and research teams are working to develop treatments as diverse as the disease itself, including new approaches to attack cancer cells directly and more effectively. Scientific progress is made every day, and we will continue to work closely with policy makers in the UK to ensure eligible patients receive access to the innovative treatments they need.


  1. World Economic Forum. 9 new breakthroughs in the fight against cancer. Published November 9, 2023. Last accessed January 2024.

  2. Cancer Research UK. Our Progress. Accessed January 2024.

  3. Cancer Research UK. Investing in cancer is good for the economy.  Last accessed January 2024.

  4. NHS England. A record year for cancer checks. Published May 2, 2022. Last accessed January 2024.

  5. Cancer Research UK. 10 tips to talk about cancer. Published April 23, 2023. Last accessed January 2024.

  6. Sky News. 'Fry and Turnbull effect': Prostate cancer is now most common cancer diagnosis. Published January 27, 2020. Last accessed January 2024.

  7. NHS England. NHS checks for bowel cancer hit record-high thanks to Dame Deborah. Published August 12, 2022. Last accessed January 2024.

  8. NHS England. NHS catching more cancers than ever before. Published November 10, 2022. Last accessed January 2024.

  9. NHS England. High street pharmacies spot cancers in new NHS early diagnosis drive. Published June 15, 2022. Last accessed January 2024.

  10. NHS England. Lung health checks. Published March 27, 2023. Last accessed January 2024.

  11. NHS England. NHS expands lifesaving home testing kits for bowel cancer. Published August 16, 2022. Last accessed January 2024.

  12. National Institute for General Medical Sciences. Studying Genes. Published August 2017. Last accessed January 2024.

  13. National Human Genome Institute. Genome. Published November 7, 2023. Last acessed January 2024.

  14. NHS England. Accelerating genomic medicine in the NHS. Published October 31, 2022. Last accessed January 2024.

  15. Macmillan Cancer Support. Demystifying genomics in cancer care. Published March 15, 2023. Last accessed January 2024.

  16. NHS England. Genetic and genomic testing. Last accessed January 2024.

  17. NHS England. NHS Genomic Medicine Service. Last acessed January 2024.

  18. City of Hope. 5 oncology breakthroughs to be excited about in 2022. Published December 23, 2021. Last accessed January 2024.

  19. Cancer Research UK. What is immunotherapy. Published January 20, 2021. Last accessed January 2024.

  20. Cancer Research UK. CAR-T Cell Therapy. Published May 20, 2021. Last accessed January 2024.

  21. American Council of Science and Health. Personalized Cancer Therapy Continues To Make Important Advances. Published February 21, 2023. Last accessed January 2024.

  22. Cancer research UK. Monoclonal Antibodies (MABs). Published January 8, 2021.  Last accessed January 2024.

  23. Gui-Hong Liu et al. Small molecule inhibitors targeting the cancers. Published October 13, 2022. Last accessed January 2024.

  24. Cancer Research UK. Targeted therapies. Published January 6, 2021. Last accessed January 2024.

  25. World Economic Forum. What is artificial intelligence – and what is it not? Published March 8, 2023. Last accessed January 2024.

  26. Labiotech. How AI is reshaping cancer diagnosis and treatment. Published February 1, 2023. Last accessed January 2024.

  27. Oxford University Hospital. Prostate cancer AI tool begins evaluation in Oxford.  Published March 10, 2023. Last accessed January 2024.

  28. NHSX. Artificial Intelligence: How to get it right. Published October 2019. Last accessed January 2024.

  29. GOV.UK. £21 million to roll out artificial intelligence across the NHS. Published June 23, 2023. Last accessed January 2024.

  30. Nuffield Trust. Cancer Survival Rates. Published June 27, 2023. Last accessed January 2024.

PP-UNP-GBR-7877 / January 2024
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