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More than one thousand people receive a cancer diagnosis in the UK each day, making early detection and intervention critical for improving outcomes for patients. The majority of patients are first diagnosed after presenting cancer symptoms to their GP. This puts primary care in a unique and critical position to drive forward research that closes the cancer care gap – the theme of this year’s World Cancer Day.

Researchers at the NDPCHS are advancing cancer care and detection

Held each year on 4 February and led by the Union for International Cancer Control, World Cancer Day aims to raise worldwide awareness, improve education and catalyse personal, collective and governmental action to create a world where millions of preventable cancer deaths are saved and access to life-saving cancer treatment and care is equitable for all.  

Key to this goal, researchers at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences (NDPCHS) are spearheading new studies and collaborations to advance early detection.  

Recent research outcomes 

In NDPCHS, we’ve recently published a major study called SYMPLIFY which evaluated a multi-cancer early detection blood test. The new test, which looks for more than 50 types of cancer, correctly revealed two out of every three cancers among more than 5,000 people who were referred by their GP with symptoms of suspected cancer, in England or Wales. It also correctly identified the original site of cancer in 85% of those cases. 

Lead investigator in NDPCHS, Associate Professor Brian Nicholson, explained: Earlier cancer detection can greatly improve patient outcomes by expanding treatment options and reducing side effects. Blood-based screening tests that help accurately triage symptomatic patients could be a game-changer for primary care. 

New CRUK collaboration  

To further drive forward studies that will help understand how to detect and prevent cancer, NDPCHS has also partnered with the Oncology Clinical Trials Office (OCTO) in a new Cancer Research UK (CRUK) funded collaboration between Clinical Trials Units (CTUs).  

Our new collaboration will concentrate on precision prevention and early detectionAt NDPCHS we will focus on evaluating effective diagnostic tests for primary care triaging. Building on large-scale primary care studies like PRINCIPLE and PANORAMIC, we will harness innovations in digital research developed during the pandemic.  

Associate Professor Ly-Mee Yu from NDPCHS explains: This presents an exciting opportunity to translate innovation into real world benefits for patients and make a significant impact on the future of cancer control. 

NIHR Policy Research Unit  

In another major initiative, NDPCHS is co-leading a new NIHR Policy Research Unit on cancer awareness, screening and early diagnosis.  

Headed by Associate Professor Brian Nicholson and Professor Yoryos Lyratzopoulos, from UCL, this cross-disciplinary collaboration will conduct research to help patients, professionals, and policymakers improve early detection. With guidance from key policy stakeholders, the unit aims to support the NHS to achieve its goal of diagnosing 75% of cancers at an early stage by 2028. 

Shaping the future 

Using real-world data and advanced analytics techniques, researchers in NDPCHS are shaping the future of early cancer detection as well as improving care and outcomes for patients.  

Based on data shared in medical records, NDPCHS researchers are leading the way in developing risk-based screening tools. Recent studies include the development of a new model that can accurately predict an individual woman’s 10-year risk of developing and dying from breast cancer and a new algorithm called CanPredict to forecast individual risk of oesophageal cancer. By assessing risk, these tools could assist earlier detection and allow for personalised, targeted and proactive prevention strategies. 

As well as developing prediction tools, researchers in NDPCHS are also assessing the lasting impacts of cancer. For example, using a set of linked national databases, NDPCHS Researcher Dr Defne Saatchi is studying the long-term health impacts facing people who have survived childhood cancer. 

Professor Julia Hippisley-Cox from NDPCHS explains: “These innovative new studies harness the huge potential of big data and computational techniques to develop dynamic personalised prediction tools for early cancer detection and intervention. Coupled with research into the lasting impacts of surviving cancer, our hope is that these data-driven tools can enhance cancer control and care and ultimately save lives.” 

Teams across NDPCHS continue to research innovative ways to improve cancer diagnosis, intervention and care for cancer patients. From assessing the impacts of COVID-19 vaccinations among patients with blood cancer to exploring disparities in outcomes for patients with liver cancer, research teams across the department continue to deliver evidence-based studies focused on improving patient outcomes and closing the cancer care gap.  

Find out more 

Read more on our Cancer theme page and keep up to date with all the latest research from NDPCHS on the News section of our website. 


Opinions expressed are those of the author/s and not of the University of Oxford. Readers' comments will be moderated - see our guidelines for further information.


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