Early Detection

What is early detection?

  • Early detection refers to efforts that can be taken to diagnose cancer as early as possible, when the disease is easiest to treat.
  • Earlier detection looks to identify those few people at risk of cancer within the larger population, and to assess the best possible actions for those people.
  • This can involve both screening programmes across the population and also individual personal education to support early diagnosis of warning signs for potential cancer.

Why is early detection important?

  • When cancer is found earlier, it can be easier to treat successfully – often requiring fewer complex and expensive treatments.
  • Currently, nearly half of all cancers in England are diagnosed at an advanced stage.
  • We aim to undertake research to help identify cancers earlier, so that more patients can benefit from treatment which is likely to cure them; minimise adverse side effects of many treatments now in current use; and reduce the economic burden of advanced cancer.

Oxford Vision

Our early detection vision is to focus on three critical biological stages along the cancer timeline that dictate the trajectory towards malignant cancer development: initiation, progression from precursors and metastasis .

Each stage represents a window of opportunity for early detection to enhance biological understanding and improve patient outcome.

Our aims for early cancer detection in Oxford are to:

  • find those at risk of cancer sooner;
  • identify those for whom intervention is necessary and not treat those who don’t;
  • achieve both of these using the most minimally invasive and implementable detection tools.

Oxford Team

In order to deliver this vision, our research community brings together expertise across epidemiologists, trialists, radiologists, pathologists, primary care physicians, molecular and cellular biologists, chemists, engineers and mathematicians in large interdisciplinary teams. This enables us to effectively realise the potential for cohorts, biomarker discovery, tool development, and artificial intelligence to improve the early detection of cancer.
Activity spans multiple Units, Institutes and Departments of the University and their collaborative activity is showcased below:

Early detection of cancer research requires work on early disease biology to understand the initiation and transformation of cancer, but also incorporates cutting edge new technologies for cancer detection, cohort building alongside big data collation/interpretation and eventual economically viable clinical implementation of output within a health service. This can only be achieved by multidisciplinary collaboration. Examples of how Oxford researchers are working in this way can be found below:

Each stage represents a window of opportunity for early detection to enhance biological understanding and improve patient outcome.

Oxford Early Detection in the News


Transatlantic collaboration to support earlier detection of pancreatic and oesophageal cancer

Oxford researcher Chunxiao Song, who is a group leader and chemist…

Rare cancer could be caught early using simple blood tests

A pioneering study into myeloma, a rare cancer, could lead to…

Monitoring prostate cancer offers the same survival chance as surgery or radiotherapy over 10 years, but treatment reduces risk of cancer progression

Active monitoring is as effective as surgery and radiotherapy, in terms of survival at 10 years, reports the largest study of its kind, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Scientists double number of known genetic risk factors for endometrial cancer

An international collaboration of researchers has identified five new gene regions that increase a woman’s risk of developing endometrial cancer

Giant touchscreen helping in the battle against cancer

Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre has funded the 55-inch wide screen for the teaching of histopathology speciality trainees and medical students from the University of Oxford and the 500 researchers and clinicians that make up the Oxford Centre