press release
Published: 27 January 2020

Cancer survivor funds ground breaking study to find out why cancer returns in some patients and not others

By Natasha Meredith

An eminent philanthropist and three time cancer survivor Dr James Hull has joined forces with six universities across the country to investigate why cancer returns in some people and not others.

Focusing on patients who have had successful treatment of advanced cancer and in whom the cancer has not reoccurred for at least 5 years, researchers from the University of Surrey, University of Oxford, Cardiff University, Swansea University, University of Manchester and University of Nottingham, as part of the Continuum Long-term Survivor study, will undertake non-invasive investigations of each individuals’ immune systems and tumour cells to identify any unique features which could explain why they have remained cancer free. 

Researchers believe that these patients may have proteins on the surface of their tumours which their immune system mistakes as an infection  and subsequently destroys the tumour as if fighting an infection. Findings from this study could help revolutionise immunotherapy treatment by targeting different proteins on cancer cells, potentially eliminating cancer recurrence in patients.

As part of this ground breaking work, researchers will also be examining the composition of bacteria in the stool of long term survivors. Emerging evidence suggests that bacteria in stool may affect the workings of our immune system and its effectiveness in dealing with infections. Researchers hypothesise that the survivors will have a different composition of bacteria in their bowel than healthy volunteers and those currently with cancer.

Figures from Cancer Research UK indicate that there are around 363,000 new cancer cases in the UK every year. It is likely that a high percentage of those diagnosed will have a recurrence of the disease within two years of finishing treatment however why cancer returns in some patients and not others remains a mystery to physicians.

Professor of Medical Oncology at the University of Surrey, Hardev Pandha said: “Advances in care have resulted in more people than ever surviving the disease. It is gratifying to see such results however this joy is often dampened by the possibility of the cancer returning in patients.

“Patients with spread of their cancer outside the organ where it started have a guarded prognosis, and the cancer generally comes back within a few years. Currently it is impossible for us to know if/when cancer will return in these patients, and which are the tiny group who have complete resolution to their widespread cancer then remain cancer free for the rest of their lives. We want to know why this happens and if there is something unique that occurs in the immune system of patients who remain cancer free.”

James Hull, philanthropist and CEO and Founder of Continuum Life Sciences, a cancer research company which is striving to find a cure for cancer and who has made this study possible with numerous financial awards to the universities mentioned, said: “I am very grateful to be a cancer survivor and wholeheartedly thank all those involved in my treatment journey. I want to find out everything we can about this devastating illness to spare future generations the difficulties I have gone through in my fight against cancer.

“Bringing together the best cancer experts in the country and equipping them with the resources they need is one way I can do this and I am very excited to see what they uncover.”

Recruitment for this innovative study remains open. If you have had an aggressive, locally advanced and/or metastatic cancer which resolved completely with treatment and have remained free of the disease without maintenance treatment for 5 years or longer we would like to talk to you. Please email or alternatively call on the free phone number 0800 144 8488.

Find out more information on the Continuum Life Sciences.

Media Contacts

Natasha Meredith
Media Officer (Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences)
Phone: +44 (0)1483 684380

External Communications and PR team
Phone: +44 (0)1483 684380 / 688914 / 684378
Out of hours: +44 (0)7773 479911