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Scotland can be a cancer research powerhouse

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK
by Michelle Mitchell | Opinion

21 September 2023

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A researcher looking at slides under a microscope

Every year in Scotland, 34,100 people are given the news that nobody wants to hear: “I’m sorry, you have cancer.”  

These words turn lives upside down, leaving people with the disease and their families feeling fearful and anxious. Thoughts turn to the future and what it might hold. Life’s little moments – some that we might previously have taken for granted – become even more precious.  

At Cancer Research UK, our vision is a Scotland where people can live their lives free from the fear of cancer. But cancer research is a marathon effort, undertaken with painstaking precision. It takes years of time, dedication, and ingenuity to unlock the disease’s secrets.  

That effort is paying off. Around 80,600 deaths have been avoided in Scotland since the early 1990s, thanks to progress in cancer research.  

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, Cancer Research UK is responsible for funding around 60% of non-commercial cancer research in Scotland. As the world’s biggest charitable funder of cancer research, we can bring together the brightest minds to tackle cancers which most affect people in Scotland – including liver, lung, bowel and pancreatic cancers.  

Cancer Research UK-funded scientists in Scotland are already transforming what we know about cancer. Researchers have found how bowel cancer hides from our immune system, how the cell’s energy factories are manipulated to power cancer and have even taken the first steps toward a urine test to detect liver cancer. It’s an impressive record, but we won’t stop there.  

We are honoured to support world-class scientists who have helped to make Scotland’s life sciences sector the success story that it is today. That’s why we’re committing £123 million over the next seven years to the newly christened Cancer Research UK Scotland Institute. It’s our biggest single investment in Scotland’s cancer researchers, underpinning our commitment to the brightest, most innovative minds in cancer research today.  

But of course, progress in tackling cancer – a disease that will affect one-in-two of us during our lifetimes – doesn’t rest solely with cutting-edge research to develop more effective and kinder treatments.  

It’s an uncomfortable fact that Scotland, like the rest of the UK, trails comparable countries when it comes to cancer survival. Among the reasons are unacceptably long NHS waiting lists – fuelled by long-standing staff shortages in cancer services – coupled with the fact that an individual’s chances of survival all too often hinge on their postcode, with lower screening uptake in deprived communities.  

The Scottish Government’s recently published 10-year cancer strategy gives us some hope that we will overcome these challenges. Cancer Research UK will hold ministers accountable for delivering it in full. We owe this to our dedicated supporters and everyone affected by cancer. 

The fight against cancer must never stand still. So, our unprecedented investment in Scottish cancer research really does matter. It matters for grandparents, mums, dads, brothers and sisters. It matters for all of us who want to see families stay together for longer. It matters for Scotland, where we can turn the nation that gave us television, the telephone and penicillin into a cancer research powerhouse.