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NCRI cancer conference day 1: prostate cancer drugs and early diagnosis

by Nick Peel | Analysis

1 November 2015

1 comment 1 comment

prostate cancer cells
Prostate cancer cells.

For the next three days Liverpool will be home to some of the world’s top cancer experts for the annual National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) conference.

We’ll be blogging the highlights, and sharing updates on all the important talking points from the conference.

You can also follow the conference live on Twitter by keeping an eye on the #NCRI2015 hashtag.

And some research from the conference has already hit the headlines.

The BBC, Mail Online, Telegraph and Express all picked up on research using tiny fat bubbles that deliver drugs to tumours when they’re heated.

Also a survey of 206 women found that many were unaware of the links between alcohol, obesity and breast cancer. ITV News and have the story.

We also asked a few people what they were excited about seeing over the next few days. Here’s what they said.

And so onto our highlights of today’s talks.

Prostate cancer resistance

We need to find ways of stopping prostate cancer cells from becoming resistant to drugs, according to Professor Charles Sawyers from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

In particular, his team focuses on understanding how prostate cancer cells become resistant to hormone treatments like enzalutamide (Xtandi) and abiraterone (Zytiga).

These therapies are usually given to men whose prostate cancer has spread, and while they do give patients more precious time with their families, eventually the majority of men stop responding as the cancer cells evolve to escape the effects of the drug.

Sawyers highlighted that these treatments can “open up a Pandora’s box of new ways to become resistant to treatment” – meaning cancer cells develop ever more ingenious ways of dodging the drugs.

So, according to Sawyers, the key to solving the problem is uncovering the ways prostate cancer cells adapt – if we know this, we could potentially stop resistance before it starts.

Interestingly, Sawyers was also keen to see a resurgence in the use of combination treatments – using more than one drug at the same time.

But to do this, Sawyers said we would need to get much better at tracking how these escape mechanisms appear in real-time. This might be by picking up rogue cancer cells and DNA in the blood, but he believes that if we can track the disease better we might be able to adapt therapy accordingly and truly tackle resistance.

Good data matters

Next up, Cancer Research UK CEO, Harpal Kumar, gave a whistle-stop tour of the UK’s impressive efforts to diagnose more cancers earlier.

As he explained, back in 2007 we really didn’t know much about why the UK’s survival rates were lagging behind other comparable European countries.

So the government and CRUK hatched an ambitious plan to find the answers – the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative.

Thanks to research over the past few years, we now have vital information that can help make a difference.

For example, awareness campaigns like Be Clear On Cancer are helping encourage people to visit their GPs with possible symptoms.

The array of information we’re gathering on early diagnosis is a perfect illustration of the ‘intelligent use of data’ – identifying the known unknowns to tackle the biggest challenges in cancer research and make a difference sooner.

Harpal ended with a touching tribute to the late Professor Jane Wardle – a leading light in early diagnosis research who sadly passed away recently.

He praised her “enormous contribution” to the field, saying she raised the game with “a great deal of humility and humour”. He also announced a new prize set up in her memory, for a team or individual making a significant contribution to early diagnosis research – launching next year.

That’s Sunday’s highlights. Keep checking back for more updates over the next few days.


  • abdulkareem
    2 November 2015

    I think the use of antioxidants very important to treat cancer.


  • abdulkareem
    2 November 2015

    I think the use of antioxidants very important to treat cancer.