Lethal versus non-lethal cancers
Cancer Grand Challenges is a series of £20m ($25m) awards that give international teams of researchers the freedom to think differently, act creatively and explore truly innovative science to take on fundamental questions in cancer.
This was a challenge in an earlier round, we are not currently accepting applications for this challenge.
Current screening methods in breast and prostate cancer pick up cancers at an early stage, but lead to over-diagnosis and subsequent over-treatment.
Paradoxically, we don’t as yet have any tools to accurately diagnose other cancers at an early stage, leading to a high cancer-specific mortality (such as for cancers of the pancreas, brain, lung and oesophagus).
The premise of this challenge is that we need a thorough understanding of features that can distinguish a non-lethal growth from a potentially lethal malignant growth, to allow methods to be developed to specifically detect the cancers that require intervention.
Barriers and opportunities
There are two aspects to this challenge: identifying changes that distinguish a non-lethal from a potentially lethal tumour and then determining how these changes would be detected accurately.
This might include (but would not be limited to) defining what distinguishing materials are shed from tumours into the bloodstream or bodily fluids that could be detected, working out how blood-based markers can be traced to a specific organ and determining how to detect the specific abnormalities that would then require intervention.
Vision and Impact
An advance in tackling this challenge could not only save lives from aggressive cancers by finding them earlier, but also reduce the harm caused by treating people with cancers that will never cause them any problems.
This, in turn, could lead to great improvements in how we screen for cancer, by helping us understand what to do with overdiagnosed cancers.