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Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer

We respond to ‘War on Cancer’

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid has declared ‘a war on cancer’ which aims to see cancer services in England become the best in Europe. Central strands of this policy, announced in a speech at the Francis Crick Institute, are:

  • Improving cancer prevention, tackling risk factors such as smoking and obesity
  • Tackling disparities and inequalities, a commitment to ‘levelling up cancer.’ Targeted interventions focused on the variation of diagnostic waits, variation in early diagnosis and survival, and a desire for an equitable pandemic recovery
  • A focus on early diagnosis, including an intention to ‘go further than’ the 75% early diagnosis ambition
  • ‘Intensifying research’ including, through the Life Sciences Vision, cancer therapeutics, mRNA vaccines and early detection and diagnosis tools, and seeing people from more diverse background represented in clinical trials

Our Director of Research, Policy and Innovation, Dr Karen Noble provides the following analysis: “At Brain Tumour Research we welcome the ambitions of the Secretary of State as laid out but, as with most strategic announcements, the devil is in the detail and that is where I feel our disease area remains a poor relation.

“Clearly cancer prevention is a key goal and where risk factors can be identified then public health education is vital. Where does that leave us if no risk factors are identified? It is only around four in 10 cancer cases that are caused by preventable risk factors – for brain tumours we don’t yet understand the causes let alone how to prevent them!

“The answer to that lies in greater understanding of the disease because before public health advice comes scientific research.

“With inequalities in the health economy – brain tumours are no respecter of health, wealth, background or geographical boundaries. They are indiscriminate and more complex for that reason and so must be treated as a cancer that poses unique problems. Our 2021 Stop the Devastation Report called on the Government to introduce a new levelling up brain tumour research fund of £105 million.

“Research into brain tumours must not be left behind – the nation needs to Level Up and invest at least £35 million a year if we are to find a cure for brain tumours in the next 20 years

“With earlier diagnosis, this can mean more time for drugs to be trialled, earlier access to therapeutics, ‘gained’ time when latest discoveries can be administered. For this to work the trials must be in place, the therapeutics available, the new drugs ‘brought to market’. Ultimately the journey, the narrative, always begins back at the scientists’ bench because that is the cornerstone of improving and adding to, what is available to the patient.

“If earlier is indeed better then we also need to look beyond the first presentation of symptoms to the point of tumour genesis and that is why blood biopsies and the role of genetics are so vital.

“Recognising the importance of research in driving cancer transformation is welcome but we would have liked to see more detail on this, particularly on early-stage research and a recognition of the impact on this of the last two years, including any plans the Government has to support those charities like Brain Tumour Research, which have traditionally taken the more riskier research funding burden, which will lead to novel discoveries.”

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