Highlights of the 2018 NCRI Cancer Conference

Over 1500 delegates flocked to Glasgow for this year’s NCRI Cancer Conference (4–6 November, Glasgow, UK). The conference provided a platform for researchers, clinicians, those affected by cancer and industry representatives to come together to present and discuss the latest high-quality research.

The conference kicked off with an opening speech by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who highlighted the importance of research and innovation to the country’s £100m national cancer strategy.

Shortly after Sturgeon’s introduction, the renowned Charles Swanton (The Francis Crick Institute, UK) provided an overview of cancer evolution and immune evasion. Swanton spoke about the TRACERx study – a study which aims to transform our understanding of NSCLC by enabling us to define how intratumor heterogeneity impacts cancer immunity through tumor evolution and therapy. In his talk, Swanton described how the ripple effect of this knowledge could inform patient stratification and help us design personalized combination treatments.

Later on in the afternoon, a key study was presented by Kathreena Kurian (University of Bristol, UK) in a session on the biology of glioblastoma. Kurian described a novel fluorescent biomarker that has the ability to distinguish glioma cells from normal brain tissue, which could allow for safer brain surgery. Full news story here.

Study leader Colin Watts (University of Birmingham, UK) commented: “Neurosurgoens need to be able to distinguish tumor tissue from other brain tissue, especially when the tumor contains fast-growing, high-grade cancer cells. This is the first prospective trial to show the benefits of using 5-ALA to improve the accuracy of diagnosing high-grade glioma during surgery.”

One favourite talks from the conference had to be the unveiling of the ‘Top 10 living with and beyond cancer research priorities’. The priorities cover the psychological impacts, lifestyle changes and both short- and long-term effects of cancer. With the success of immunotherapy and other treatment modalities, we have witnessed great advancements in treatment options for cancer and more people than ever are surviving the disease, however, as highlighted in this session there is an urgent need to devise ways to help people live better with and after cancer. Find out what the Top 10 priorities are here.

Tying into this topic, an enlightening study was presented by Hashim Ahmed (Imperial College London, UK). The research, which examined the perspectives of patients recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, demonstrated that some prostate cancer patients may be willing to relinquish some survival probability in order to avoid repeat treatments and their associated side-effects.

Robin Jones from the University of Glasgow (UK) commented on the study: “This research shows that patients are willing and able to make trade-offs between different aspects of treatment and they may wish to choose treatment strategies that have fewer side effects, even if survival is not as good. Clinicians should ensure they give non-biased information about the different treatment options for prostate cancer to help patients decide what is right for them.”

In the field of breast cancer, a large study (comprising data from the Breast Cancer Association Consortium and the BioBank project) grabbed the attention of national news outlets. The study found that women who function better at the beginning of the day (referred to as ‘larks’ in this study) could have a lower risk of breast cancer than ‘owls’. It also found that women who slept longer than the recommended 7–8 hours had a 20% increased risk of the disease per additional hour slept.

On the last day of the conference we heard from Michael Fodder (CRUK Beatson Institute, UK) about the possibility of preventing bowel cancer in high-risk individuals. The study Fodder presented revealed that treating pre-cancerous stem cells in individuals at high risk of bowel cancer may prevent the disease from developing. Read the full story here.

Another story that grabbed the headlines was presented by Jo Brett (Oxford Brookes University, UK). This study demonstrated that despite guidelines from Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians, 29% of health professionals would not recommend e-cigarettes to cancer patients as an alternative to smoking. The findings suggest that there is a need for clearer guidance for doctors and nurses in regards to smoking and the recommendations that they give patients.

Tie all of this forward-thinking research in with: igloo sessions, relaxation sessions, poster presentations and dragon den style sessions, made for a highly enjoyable and informative conference. We can’t wait to return to Scotland again next year for the 2019 NCRI conference!

If you would like to find out more, make sure to check out our news coverage of the NCRI 2018 Cancer Conference.