Brain tumours kill more people under the age of 40 than any other cancer. They kill more children in the UK than any other disease. Yet brain tumour research attracts only 2% of the national spend on cancer research. This is why we have made brain tumours one of our top research priorities.
Brain tumours affect people of all ages. Like most cancers, they get more common as people age but – in contrast to most other cancer types – brain tumours also occur relatively frequently at younger ages. They are the second most common type of childhood cancer.
Brain tumours are responsible for around 100 deaths every week in the UK, including a disproportionate number of young people. They account for one in six cancer deaths in the under 40s.
Survival rates vary widely between different types of brain tumour – many low-grade tumours have a good prognosis, whereas a number of high-grade tumours have few, if any, long-term survivors.
But just as important as the number of years, is the quality of those years. The toll on those who survive, or are living with, brain tumours is enormous. A tumour in the brain can cause huge, irreversible damage. And treatment that may be life-saving can cause devastating collateral damage. This is particularly pertinent in children, whose brains are still developing and who must carry the burden of any disabilities and health problems through their whole lives.
James (pictured above, left, with his dad and brother) was diagnosed with a brain tumour aged just five. Whilst his tumour was low-grade and not immediately life-threatening, it caused relentless seizures. These had a huge impact on James, and his whole family. He has missed years of full-time school, struggled with friendships, and had to give up his beloved sport.
For some children, their tumours are quickly fatal. Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is a high-grade, aggressive tumour that develops in the brainstem, mostly presenting in children aged five to ten years. There is no cure and most children die within 18 months of diagnosis.
Similarly, the brain tumour glioblastoma – in the news this month after The Wanted star Tom Parker was diagnosed at the age of 32 – has no treatment that is effective in the long-term.
We made research into brain tumours one of our top research priorities in 2016, to address the high level of patient need – the high level of mortality and the debilitating consequences for those who survive. Brain tumour research attracts only 2% of the national spend on cancer research. This is not enough. A far higher level of investment is needed if we are to change the outlook for those diagnosed with these tumours. Since 2016 we have awarded funds of £1.6 million for research into brain tumours, including:
PhD student Richard Baugh, at the University of Oxford, who is working on a new immunotherapy approach that shows promise in the treatment of glioblastoma.
Dr Claudia Barros, at Plymouth University, is studying the cancer stem cells within glioblastoma. These are thought to drive tumour recurrence after treatment, and may hold the key to the development of new and more effective treatments.
PhD student Rhiannon Barrow, at the University of Leeds, is also focused on treatment resistance. She is deciphering the mechanisms underpinning treatment resistance in glioblastoma, in order to open up new ways to attack the tumour.
Professor Chris Jones, at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, is one of the world’s leading researchers in DIPG and his work to date has advanced our understanding of this disease tremendously. He is now focusing on a specific genetic mutation, not seen in any other type of cancer, that he believes could hold the key to successful treatment of DIPG.
And just last month, we awarded three new project grants focused on brain tumours – and look forward to sharing details of these very soon.
Like most charities, our income has been hit hard by Covid-19, but it is absolutely vital that we maintain our investment in research. If you’d like to help, you could make a donation, take part in a virtual challenge event, organise your own event, sign up to our weekly lottery, or simply buy one of our face masks. Find out how to get involved.
We are always looking for people who are willing to share their stories – to help demonstrate the impact of brain tumours and emphasise the need for more research. If you could help in this way, please get in touch.