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Six ways 2016 was an amazing year for cancer research

We can all agree that 2016 has been a year of unprecedented change and turbulence. We also seemed to lose what felt like an unusually high number of artists to cancer; David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Caroline Aherne, Victoria Wood, Paul Daniels, and most recently the Sunday Times critic A A Gill.

It's encouraging to know that, behind the scenes, Worldwide Cancer Research scientists are working around the clock to make the discoveries we need to combat cancer.  This year has seen an amazing amount of progress, from new insights into how cancer works, to ways of possibly stopping it in it's tracks. Here are six of the best findings from this year that we funded thanks to our amazing supporters.

1. New revelations about bowel cancer


In March Dr Louis Vermeulen in The Netherlands published findings in Nature Communications identifying a potential new way to prevent bowel cancer in mice.  He now wants to confirm these findings in human cells, and focus on patients who have an inherited condition which makes them much more likely to develop bowel cancer.

2. Gold particles can help target cancer treatments


The Olympics in Rio were a highlight of the summer, and scientist Dr Flavio Curnis and his colleagues in Milan proved gold isn’t just for medals when they published research showing how tiny gold particles can be used to help improve a type of cancer therapy, potentially meaning less side effects for patients.

3. First evidence to show that cancer isn't always a case of bad luck


In October, Dr Ruben van Boxtel published his latest findings demonstrating that getting cancer isn’t only down to 'bad luck' after all. His team at UMC Utrecht in The Netherlands used human stem cells from a range of organs and found that accidental ‘bad luck’ DNA damage might not play as big a role in cancer as previously thought.

4. Hope for women with ovarian cancer


In November, a drug Worldwide Cancer Research was involved in developing, called olaparib, was approved for use in Scotland for women with advanced ovarian cancer. Patients in England and Wales started to receive the drug (which helps extend lives) in early 2016 after it was approved by NICE in December 2015.

5. One pill to treat everything from cold sores to some cancers

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In November, Worldwide Cancer Research scientists Professor Adrian Whitehouse and Dr Richard Foster at the University of Leeds identified a compound which potentially blocks all 8 types of the human herpes virus. These findings take us a step closer to a pill for everyone who needs it, from a teenager with a cold sore, a new baby with a viral infection or a transplant patient with Kaposi’s sarcoma.

6. Breakthrough research helps us understand how cancer spreads


Just this month, Professor Salvador Aznar Benitah in Spain published findings  which identified the cells responsible for cancer spread. He also reported that mice fed a high fat diet had increased cancer spread. When  cancer spreads to other organs it makes successful treatment much more difficult.  Indeed, cancer spread is thought to be responsible for 90% of cancer deaths. Scientists around the world are focussed on trying to understand the process and figure out how to stop it.

It's important to point out that more research is needed to fully understand the role diet, and particularly a high fat one, play in human cancer.  In fact cancer patients may be told to eat a high fat diet in order to cope with their treatment and it is important they do so.  Professor Benitah also identified a potential new way to stop cancer spread which he is now developing further.  If this technique is successful it could save thousands of lives. Read more about this research on the blog.

What an amazing year 2016 has been for cancer research and we have high hopes 2017 could be even better.

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