Basic research: Support vital work to understand how cancer spreads

Last updated: 29/12/2014

Why this research is needed

Researcher holding a sample in a small test tubeOne of the reasons that cancer can be so difficult to treat is its ability to spread around the body forming new tumours. Cancer spread is responsible for 90% of all the lives lost to the disease.

Research into understanding and preventing cancer spread could help save millions of lives in the UK and worldwide every year.

The impact of our research

Our scientists have played a key role in many of the most important discoveries in basic cancer biology, including how cancer cells move and spread.

Knowing how cancer spreads will open the door to finding cures for different types of cancer and will help to save more lives every year.

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Project closed - December 2014

Thank you so much to everyone who has generously supported this project, helping to raise £20,000 for our work into understanding cancer and how this disease spreads.

Fundraising for this project has now closed. But you can still continue to donate or raise money for our life-saving work. All you need to do is choose another project that you'd like to support.

We're currently raising money for many areas of groundbreaking research, including research into breast, bowel, prostate and rare cancers.

Take a look at all of our current research projects here.

The science behind this project

Find out how cancer spreads and why understanding how cancer spreads is essential to developing new treatments to stop cancer in its tracks.

Read about this groundbreaking research >

How does cancer spread?

In order to spread, cancer cells need to break away from the original (or primary) tumour. They can then enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system and travel around the body until they get somewhere.

They can then invade the surrounding tissues and begin multiplying to form 'secondary' tumours.

Why is cancer spread an essential target?

When a tumour is confined to a single part of the body it is easier to treat, because doctors can use effective treatments like radiotherapy and surgery, as well as drug treatments. But when cancer spreads to other organs, these treatments may not manage to control the cancer and sadly, it then cannot be cured.

Because all cancers can spread, being able to stop this process could change future cancer treatment.

Unlocking the secret

Understanding the intricacies of how cancer cells spread will unlock cancer's best kept secret. With this knowledge, scientists will be able to develop groundbreaking treatments to prevent cancer spread, helping to bring forward the day when all cancers will be cured.

Cancer cells (in fluorescent green) surrounded by fibroblasts (in fluorescent red) and nuclei (in fluorescent cyan) spreading through tissue

Dr Erik Sahai and his group at the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute are looking at how cancer cells break free, travel across the body, invade other tissues and grow in a different location.

Using cutting-edge techniques that allow them to watch individual cells move and invade, they can study their behaviour and control these processes.

One area they are focusing on is explaining the role played by normal healthy cells, called fibroblasts, which are hijacked by the cancer to help it spread.

The team have already made remarkable discoveries, showing that these fibroblasts act like a snowplough, clearing the way for cancer cells to move and invade through tissues.

Image above right: Cancer cells (in fluorescent green) surrounded by fibroblasts (in fluorescent red) and nuclei (in fluorescent cyan) spreading through tissue; image courtesy of Dr Erik Sahai.

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The difference you can make

Thank to the support of people like you we can fund many projects like Dr Sahai's that look into the nuts and bolts of cancer. In-depth knowledge of cancer biology is the best weapon in our fight against all cancers and it has the potential to save millions of lives every year.

Please donate today to support vital research into how cancer spreads.

Driving coast to coast - Joy Rainey

Joy Rainey in her 109 year old Oldsmobile horseless carriageOn 14 April 2013, Joy Rainey will leave Los Angeles to drive coast to coast across the USA in a 109 year old Curved Dash Oldsmobile (CDO) horseless carriage. She will be covering a distance of 2,826 miles to raise funds for Cancer Research UK.

This coast to coast adventure was to be Joy and her partner Trevor Hulk's most challenging. However sadly in 2010, Trevor was diagnosed with cancer and passed away.

Joy said: Open QuoteA few months after Trevor's untimely death I was contacted by Gary Hoonsbeen of the CDO Club in the USA who gently suggested that I might consider undertaking the trip myself as a tribute to Trevor.

My reply was 'I never say never', but in my heart then, I did not think that I could take on such a challenging trip without my soul-mate.Closing Quote

Joy felt like this was 'unfinished business', and now after considerable soul searching and encouragement from friends and family, she has decided to undertake this momentous trip.

She will start her coast to coast USA drive from Los Angeles to Daytona Beach arriving on 15 May 2013 in her vintage Oldsmobile.

Joy's goal is to raise £20,000 for this research project.

She is sponsored by Gordon Equipments Ltd, Durite and Extreme 4x4 Ltd. Visit her website for more details: