Global Health

10 new breakthroughs in the fight against cancer

A technician viewing cells on a microscope and another using a pipette at the National Cancer Institute.

Medical advances are continuing to help the world fight cancer. Image: Unsplash/National Cancer Institute

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Ian Shine
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Madeleine North
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Global Health?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Global Health is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Global Health

This article is part of: Centre for Health and Healthcare

Listen to the article

This article was originally published in May 2022, and most recently updated in January 2024.

  • Cancer is one of the world’s biggest killers, with around 10 million deaths per year due to the disease.
  • Scientists are using artificial intelligence, DNA sequencing, precision oncology and other technologies to improve treatment and diagnosis.
  • The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution India, a collaboration with the World Economic Forum, hopes to accelerate 18 cancer interventions.

Cancer kills around 10 million people a year and is a leading cause of death globally, according to the World Health Organization.

Breast, lung and colon cancer are among the most common. Death rates from cancer were falling before the pandemic. But COVID-19 caused a big backlog in diagnosis and treatment.

There is some good news, however. Medical advances are accelerating the battle against cancer. Here are 10 recent developments.

Test to identify 18 early-stage cancers

Researchers in the US have developed a test they say can identify 18 early-stage cancers. Instead of the usual invasive and costly methods, Novelna's test works by analyzing a patient's blood protein. In a screening of 440 people already diagnosed with cancer, the test correctly identified 93% of stage 1 cancers in men and 84% in women. The researchers believe the findings "pave the way for a cost-effective, highly accurate, multi-cancer screening test that can be implemented on a population-wide scale". It's early days, however. With such a small sample screening and a lack of information on co-existing conditions, the test is currently more of "a starting point for developing a new generation of screening tests for the early detection of cancer".

The seven-minute cancer treatment jab

England's National Health Service (NHS) is to be the first in the world to make use of a cancer treatment injection, which takes just seven minutes to administer, rather than the current time of up to an hour to have the same drug via intravenous infusion. This will not only speed up the treatment process for patients, but also free up time for medical professionals. The drug, Atezolizumab or Tecentriq, treats cancers including lung and breast, and it's expected most of the 3,600 NHS patients in England currently receiving it intravenously will now switch to the jab.

Precision oncology

Precision oncology is the “best new weapon to defeat cancer”, the chief executive of Genetron Health, Sizhen Wang, says in a blog for the World Economic Forum. This involves studying the genetic makeup and molecular characteristics of cancer tumours in individual patients. The precision oncology approach identifies changes in cells that might be causing the cancer to grow and spread. Personalized treatments can then be developed. The 100,000 Genomes Project, a National Health Service initiative, studied more than 13,000 tumour samples from UK cancer patients, successfully integrating genomic data to more accurately pin-point effective treatment. Because precision oncology treatments are targeted – as opposed to general treatments like chemotherapy – it can mean less harm to healthy cells and fewer side effects as a result.

Artificial intelligence fights cancer

In India, World Economic Forum partners are using emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to transform cancer care. For example, AI-based risk profiling can help screen for common cancers like breast cancer, leading to early diagnosis. AI technology can also be used to analyze X-rays to identify cancers in places where imaging experts might not be available. These are two of 18 cancer interventions that The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution India, a collaboration with the Forum, hopes to accelerate.

Infographic of sequenced DNA of cancer tumours.
Scientists at Cambridge University Hospitals have sequenced the DNA of more than 12,000 cancer tumours to reveal new clues about the disease. Image: Science/Cambridge University Hospitals

Greater prediction capabilities

Lung cancer kills more people in the US yearly than the next three deadliest cancers combined. It's notoriously hard to detect the early stages of the disease with X-rays and scans alone. However, MIT scientists have developed an AI learning model to predict a person's likelihood of developing lung cancer up to six years in advance via a low-dose CT scan. Trained using complex imaging data, 'Sybil' can forecast both short- and long-term lung cancer risk, according to a recent study. "We found that while we as humans couldn't quite see where the cancer was, the model could still have some predictive power as to which lung would eventually develop cancer," said co-author Jeremy Wohlwend.

Clues in the DNA of cancer

At Cambridge University Hospitals in England, the DNA of cancer tumours from 12,000 patients is revealing new clues about the causes of cancer, scientists say. By analyzing genomic data, oncologists are identifying different mutations that have contributed to each person’s cancer. For example, exposure to smoking or UV light, or internal malfunctions in cells. These are like “fingerprints in a crime scene”, the scientists say – and more of them are being found. “We uncovered 58 new mutational signatures and broadened our knowledge of cancer,” says study author Dr Andrea Degasperi, from Cambridge’s Department of Oncology.

Loading...

Liquid and synthetic biopsies

Biopsies are the main way doctors diagnose cancer – but the process is invasive and involves removing a section of tissue from the body, sometimes surgically, so it can be examined in a laboratory. Liquid biopsies are an easier and less invasive solution where blood samples can be tested for signs of cancer. Synthetic biopsies are another innovation that can force cancer cells to reveal themselves during the earliest stages of the disease.

Discover

How is the World Economic Forum bringing data-driven healthcare to life?

CAR-T-cell therapy

A treatment that makes immune cells hunt down and kill cancer cells was recently declared a success for leukaemia patients. The treatment, called CAR-T-cell therapy, involves removing and genetically altering immune cells, called T cells, from cancer patients. The altered cells then produce proteins called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). These recognize and can destroy cancer cells. In the journal Nature, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania announced that two of the first people treated with CAR-T-cell therapy were still in remission 12 years on.

Loading...

Fighting pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers. It is rarely diagnosed before it starts to spread and has a survival rate of less than 5% over five years. At the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, scientists developed a test that identified 95% of early pancreatic cancers in a study. The research, published in Nature Communications Medicine, explains how biomarkers in extracellular vesicles – particles that regulate communication between cells – were used to detect pancreatic, ovarian and bladder cancer at stages I and II.

Have you read?

A tablet to cut breast cancer risk

A drug that could halve the chance of women developing breast cancer is being tested out by England's National Health Service (NHS). It will be made available to almost 300,000 women seen as being at most risk of developing breast cancer, which is the most common type of cancer in the UK. The drug, named anastrozole, cuts the level of oestrogen women produce by blocking the enzyme aromatase. It has already been used for many years as a breast cancer treatment but has now been repurposed as a preventive medicine. “This is the first drug to be repurposed through a world-leading new programme to help us realize the full potential of existing medicines in new uses to save and improve more lives on the NHS," says NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard.

Loading...
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Global HealthHealth and Healthcare
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

AI and cyber, cancer-care, trade tech, and green skills: Top weekend reads on Agenda

Gayle Markovitz

March 1, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum