The Early Detection Programme is a flagship initiative of the CRUK Cambridge Centre. It brings together basic, translational and clinical scientists, spanning a broad spectrum of disciplinary approaches and expertise in multiple cancer types. The programme is led by Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald (Professor of Cancer Prevention and Honorary Consultant, Gastroenterology, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) and Dr Sarah Bohndiek (Group Leader at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and Reader in Biomedical Physics at the Cavendish Laboratory).
When cancer is found earlier, it can be easier to treat successfully. However, nearly half of cancers in England are diagnosed at an advanced stage, which means that patient outcomes are likely to be worse.
The mission of the CRUK Cambridge Centre Early Detection Programme is to gain greater understanding of the development of cancer and to devise better means of diagnosing it at an early stage, leading to improved outcomes for cancer patients. In order to do this, we are focusing our efforts on four key aims:
- Understanding the earliest steps of cancer development at the cell and molecular level;
- Developing new methods of detecting cancer even prior to the appearance of symptoms;
- Understanding the implications of early detection for health, medicine and society;
- Undertaking clinical studies to evaluate new diagnostics, therapies and interventions.
Impact of Cambridge early detection research
The following examples demonstrate the innovative approaches to early cancer detection developed by Cambridge cancer scientists.
Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald (Professor of Cancer Prevention) and her team have created the Cytosponge which, when coupled with laboratory tests, is an inexpensive, non-invasive and highly efficacious tool for the detection of pre-cancerous oesophageal lesions, helping to identify those at greatest risk of developing oesophageal cancer. This cancer is the eighth most common globally, and the sixth most frequent cause of cancer mortality worldwide. The Cytosponge is currently being validated in a large-scale (9,000 patients) UK trial as well as trials in the US. Importantly, this trial is also testing whether the tool can be used effectively in a primary care setting. The technology has already been licensed for routine clinical use on a global scale.
Dr Fiona Walter (Principal Researcher in Primary Care Cancer Research) and her team are testing the implementation of cancer diagnostic tests for use in primary care settings. By providing front-line medical professionals with diagnostic tools that are clinically effective, low-cost and low-intervention, this project will ultimately enable more cancers to be found—and treated—at an earlier, curative stage. The project will also establish an International School for Cancer Detection in Primary Care. The training provided will help to build a global community of highly qualified clinicians and scientists from around the world who are committed to delivering early detection in a range of primary care settings.
Mr Vincent Gnanapragasam (University Lecturer and Consultant Urologist) and his team have developed the CAMPROBE (Cambridge Prostate Biopsy Device), a safer biopsy method for the early detection of prostate cancer. In pilot trials the CAMPROBE results in 0% infections compared to 10-12% from current trans-rectal biopsy methods. The team is also undertaking a complementary project to develop novel image-fusion software (allowing for accurate analysis of multiple overlayed images) to work with the CAMPROBE and deliver precision guidance of biopsies.