Two of our research nurses in Southampton, taken before COVID-19.

Since 1995, more than 100,000 patients have taken part in our treatment trials.

In this final article selected from our Annual Review, we focus on the crucial role of clinical trials and the people who take part in them.

Without clinical trials, and the volunteers who take part in them, our groundbreaking research would not be possible. They are a vital part of developing new ways to prevent, detect and treat cancer, improving the quality of life for cancer patients and helping more people to survive the disease.

This year, abiraterone, a drug for advanced prostate cancer which was first discovered and developed by our scientists, reached a landmark stage of development. Results from a large trial involving nearly 1,200 men showed that this treatment can provide patients with valuable extra months of life. This could make a huge difference to the 10,000 men diagnosed with aggressive forms of the disease in the UK every year.

We hope this drug will be available to prostate cancer patients by early 2012. We’re now funding a trial to find out whether abiraterone can help treat breast cancer.

We also had results from a major bladder cancer trial, which showed that adding two commonly-used chemotherapy drugs to traditional radiotherapy can reduce the chance of a patient’s tumour coming back by a third. The trial was the largest of its kind in bladder cancer in the world. This treatment could mean fewer patients with invasive bladder cancer will need radical surgery to completely remove their bladder.

I’m taking part in trials for a treatment called taxol and another that monitors my blood every month. I wanted to try and help someone else, even if the trial doesn’t help me. We’ll never get to the bottom of these diseases without clinical trials and we need to have hope. I get through it because I live life for today.

Rita Negus, 63, Cambridge, has had ovarian cancer since 2006 and is taking part in two clinical trials

Frequently asked questions

Anne Croudass

We fund around 200 cancer trials nurses at hospitals throughout the UK, who help to give treatments and care for people taking part in trials

Here, Anne Croudass, one of our research nurses, answers some frequently-asked questions about this part of our life-saving research.

What are clinical trials?

All new cancer treatments and ways to prevent or detect the disease have to be thoroughly tested before they are licensed and available for patients. Something might look promising in the lab, but we won’t yet know if it will help people with cancer. Clinical trials aim to find out if new treatments and tests are safe, if they have side effects and if they work better than the approach currently used. Year on year, clinical trials help to refine and improve existing ways of diagnosing or treating people with cancer, and save lives.

How many people take part?

We fund clinical trials in hundreds of towns and cities across the UK, with some recruiting patients in as many as 100 different hospitals. Last year, 31,000 people joined a trial supported by Cancer Research UK – that’s three-quarters of all people taking part in UK cancer trials.

Our CancerHelp UK website includes a unique searchable database of UK cancer clinical trials, written in plain English specifically for patients and relatives.

Why are they so important?

We rely on people taking part in clinical trials to make progress in our fight against cancer. They provide the evidence we need to improve clinical care for cancer patients in the future. Many thousands of people have survived cancer as a result of treatments and screening approaches that we have developed or tested. Our trials have led to improvements in cancer diagnosis and care for many different types of cancer including breast, bowel, lung, skin, prostate and pancreas.

We funded the largest ever trial for people with operable pancreatic cancer. This showed that giving chemotherapy to patients after surgery could extend the lives of people with the disease – this is now standard practice worldwide. We also funded pivotal clinical trials that have shaped the way tamoxifen is used to treat breast cancer today.

What happens after a trial?

Trials can go on for several years after a patient has stopped treatment, as our researchers need to monitor the long-term effects.