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One million lives saved from cancer, thanks to the power of research

A retired Cambridge scientist who has celebrated her 75th birthday, says she is "living proof of the power of research", as analysis shows over a million lives have been saved from cancer since the 1980s.

People surrounding a cake
Retired Cambridge scientist and patient Liz Chipchase celebrating her 75th birthday

Liz Chipchase is one of the stars of Cancer Research UK's 'Together We Are Beating Cancer’ campaign and features on posters that will be on display in the East of England, and across the UK, during September.

New data released by Cancer Research UK today reveals around 1.2 million deaths have been avoided in the UK since the mid-1980s due to progress in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Liz welcomes the figures after volunteering for a clinical trial that she believes saved her life. Because her cancer was detected early, Liz managed to avoid an operation and chemotherapy.

By bringing together NHS staff from Addenbrooke's Hospital and world-leading scientists from the University of Cambridge and its Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital will accelerate cutting-edge research discoveries to detect cancer at its earliest stage and develop personalised treatments for patients.

The new state-of-the-art facility will house three research institutes, which mean patients can benefit from the latest innovations in cancer science.

Watch Liz's story


“This is a golden era for cancer research. We’ve seen incredible progress in the way that we prevent, diagnose and treat cancer."

Professor Jean Abraham, Director of the Precision Breast Cancer Institute at Cambridge University Hospitals and the future Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital

Over the last four decades, UK cancer mortality rates have fallen by around a quarter, after peaking in 1985 for men and 1989 for women. Had rates stayed the same, it is estimated around 114,000 more lives would have been lost in the East of England.

Reflecting on her experience, Liz said: “The number of lives that have been saved in the region shows the immense power of research and I know this better than most. Research into early diagnosis has given me the greatest gift - more time with my loved ones.

“Not only have I celebrated my 75th birthday, but the family and friends who shared it with me included my youngest great-niece, born three years after my cancer was treated."

Professor Jean Abraham
Professor Jean Abraham, Director of the Precision Breast Cancer Institute at CUH which will move into Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital

Lead of the Personalised Breast Cancer Programme at Cambridge University Hospitals and Director of the Precision Breast Cancer Institute, Professor Jean Abraham, said:

“This is a golden era for cancer research. We’ve seen incredible progress in the way that we prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.

“In my own field of personalising breast cancer treatments, we’re now able to complete genome sequencing from the lab to the clinic in a matter of days, when 10 years ago it would have taken months.

"This is a game-changer because we can now use a patient’s own unique genetic code to personalise their clinical management. This lets us evaluate exactly what treatments and surgery suits them best as an individual. We can also determine whether a patient’s family need screening for high-risk hereditary genes that cause cancer."

“But for all the progress we’ve made there is so much more about cancer that we don’t know. That is why it’s crucial that we continue pioneering cancer research to save more lives.”

Liz's story

In 2018, Liz took part in a Cancer Research UK-funded clinical trial designed to test a capsule sponge – an ingenious ‘sponge-on-a-string’ method of collecting cells from the oesophagus (food pipe) to look for signs of a condition, known as Barrett’s oesophagus, that can sometimes develop into oesophageal cancer.

Liz had a history of indigestion and acid reflux, so was invited to take part by her GP. The samples revealed that not only did Liz have Barrett’s, but further tests also showed she had cancer.

She had two endoscopy procedures to remove the cancerous tissue and follow-up treatment to remove traces of Barrett’s.

“It’s a chain of events that makes me feel so very lucky,” she said. “I believe this trial saved my life.”

The BEST3 clinical trial Liz was on showed the capsule sponge, developed by researchers of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, was able to spot 10 times more cases of Barrett’s oesophagus compared with what GPs ordinarily would.

To take this to the next level, our partners Cancer Research UK and Cambridge University Hospitals are now supporting a new clinical trial that could pave the way for this test to be established as a routine screening programme. It could save more lives by providing a more accurate, affordable and kinder alternative to an invasive endoscopy, the current test.

Find out more about the capsule sponge and BEST3 trial

To support and learn more about Cancer Research UK's new campaign visit