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The Need for Research in Wales - World Cancer Research Day 2023

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24th September each year marks World Cancer Research Day, where organisations, institutions, and networks from around the world come together to raise awareness of and promote research into cancer. The overall aim of the initiative is to advance and accelerate our understanding of the disease so we can better prevent cancer, increase early diagnosis, and provide improved treatments to help achieve the goal of reducing the burden of cancer on people and their families around the globe.

Rates of cancers are predicted to steadily increase over the next decade for various reasons, but encouragingly the number of people surviving cancer are greater than at any point in history. This is due to wider adoption of screening for early cancer detection, precision anti-cancer drugs that more accurately target the molecular and genetic defects in tumours, better and safer radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and improved health systems that deliver more effective care. Most of these improvements have been driven by research.

Continued investment in research is vital if we are to keep one step ahead of cancer and transform this terrible disease into one that is more chronic, that people can live with, safely kept in check for many years, rather than the life-threatening and life-limiting disease it still represents in many cases.

Unfortunately, Wales has some of the poorest cancer outcomes in Europe when compared with other countries with similar healthcare systems. It is estimated that an extra 300 lives could be saved each year if Wales just met the European average and an extra 600 lives saved if Wales was amongst the best performing countries in Europe.

Numerous studies have shown that the more research active a local health authority or hospital becomes, the better the outcomes for patients. Similar studies have also shown that patient outcomes can be improved by almost 4% if research is put at the heart of local health care.

Given that over 9000 people lose their life to cancer each year in Wales, if we put research at the heart of cancer treatment and care, improving cancer outcomes by 4%, then there is the potential for an extra 360 lives to be saved each year, which would bring Wales up to the European average.

While we acknowledge that things may not be this simple, as health systems are complex and dynamic, it is not difficult to appreciate what could be achieved if cancer research was put at the heart of all cancer services in the Welsh NHS. Sadly, and all too often, research is considered an optional extra - nice to undertake, but only if sufficient money, time, and resources allow.

Wales, with its own end-to-end devolved health system, and unique platforms such as Rapid Diagnostic Centres and the Single Cancer Pathway, has a wonderful opportunity to drive health care innovation. Something that the people of Wales and all the hard-working and dedicated staff that work in the Welsh NHS need and deserve.

Dr Lee Campbell, Head of Research

“It is estimated that an extra 300 lives could be saved each year if Wales just met the European average.”

Unfortunately, Wales suffers from a lack of investment for cancer research in proportion to other parts of the UK. Almost 70% of funds awarded for cancer research go to the “Golden Triangle” of Cambridge, Oxford and London, with other significant sums allocated to centres in the Southwest and Northwest of England, and Scotland.

As Wales’s only independent cancer research charity, Cancer Research Wales, all our cancer research funding is spent right here funding vital research in Wales providing our talented clinicians and scientists with the vital resources they need to drive forward improvements.

Since our formation in 1966, Cancer Research Wales has funded over £30M in cancer research across Wales. This has served to kickstart the research careers of many oncologists, academic researchers, and medical physicists as well as helping establish Velindre as Cancer Centre of Excellence through supporting numerous radiotherapy and chemotherapy trials and the clinical trials unit situated on site. This helped to bring new and better treatments closer to home and allowed Welsh cancer patients to be amongst the first to benefit from the latest breakthroughs that cancer research has to offer.

Last year alone Cancer Research Wales spent £2.2M on several major research projects of national strategic priority, that will hopefully improve bowel cancer screening and how cancers are detected in primary care. However, there is so much more we need to do, and so much more we can do, but we can only achieve this through the support of the people of Wales.

The World Declaration for Research on Cancer calls for the active involvement of citizens, enterprises, institutions and leaders in diverse areas and activities to join efforts to promote research, in order to reduce the number of people who develop cancer and to improve survival rates and the quality of life among cancer patients.

Our vision of a ‘Wales United Against Cancer’ perfectly aligns with this year’s theme for World Cancer Research Day which is ‘Cancer Research Works: Driving Progress Together’. To mark the event, we are asking the people of Wales to unite with us and ‘Stripe A Pose’ to raise funds to allow us to increase research capacity. Together we can drive progress and help improve Wales’s unacceptable cancer outcomes.

To find out how your school, organisation, club, workplace, or family can take part in our ‘Stripe A Pose’ campaign, please visit our website here.