Edinburgh Cancer Research

Shining a Light on Brain Cancer

Why are brain tumours so hard to treat? What's it like living with brain cancer and what role does research have in developing our understanding of cancer? In 2022, we shone a light on brain cancer to answer these questions and more.

Heather Duff - The marathon I don't sign up for

Brain tumour survival remains low, with limited treatment options available and little has changed in over a generation. More than 11,000 new cases of brain tumours occur in the UK each year. Despite this, the 10-year survival rate is less than 15%, so there is an urgent need to develop better treatments. Progress in brain cancer research has been hindered by huge gaps in our knowledge, especially in understanding the biology underpinning this disease.

Paving the way towards more effective treatments for brain tumours, scientists and clinicians in Edinburgh are making brain cancer research a top priority. The Cancer Research UK Brain Tumour Centre of Excellence, established in 2018, has helped to unite an incredible research community focused on bringing fresh ideas from the lab to the clinic.

Due to all this and more, we felt it was vital to shine a light on this important area of research. We held an event, where patient representative Heather Duff was joined by her neurosurgeon Dr Paul Brennan, alongside members of the brain tumour research community in Edinburgh, to share their insights on tackling these diseases.

Heather shared her story of the impact both mentally and physically, not only of her initial cervical cancer diagnosis in 2014 but also her later diagnosis of brain cancer.

There is nothing I could have done to prevent cancer. But the worst part is knowing that it doesn't just impact me, it impacts all the ones I love. So the final thing I would like to share with you is my own personal belief in the importance of research. I simply would not be here today if it weren't for the scientists, the doctors, the nurses and everyone involved that takes the research from the lab to the bedsides.

Heather DuffPatient Representative and also a Fundraiser at CRUK

But... why is it so hard to treat? Dr Paul Brennan tried his best to answer this but the initial answer is simple. 

The starting point for thinking about why brain cancer is so hard to treat is because... it just is. That's the fact of the matter. If we look at population level data, if we look at what's happened over the last 20 years, 30 years, we've not made a huge difference... whereas improvement in cancers, such as melanoma or even breast cancer, are much greater.

Dr. Paul BrennanReader and Honorary Consultant Neurosurgeon, Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences

Heather's story clearly caught the hearts of our viewers, who highlighted the talk as their favourite part of the event

The patient talk was fantastic. Heather was really inspiring and her frankness and honesty was amazing. I also enjoyed the talks from all of the scientists.


Did you miss out on this fantastic event? You can still watch it! Take a look at the talk here:

Shining a Light on Brain Cancer

Next year, in February, we plan to Shine a Light on skin cancer. You may have recently seen construction work going on at our institute, being completed by Robertson Construction. As construction workers spend most of their work-related time outdoors, they are at increased risk of skin cancer due to high levels of UV radiation exposure from the sun. We aim to raise awareness of this risk and more with talks from specialists in cancer research. Keep your eye on our Twitter and website for more information soon.

Related Links

Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre

Shining a Light on Brain Cancer

World Cancer Research Day