EACH day in Oxford 12 people are told they have cancer and five people die from the disease. Cancer Research UK has spent more than £120m in the past five years on leading scientific and clinical research throughout Oxford.

Some of the money goes to the Early Phase Clinical Trials Unit based at the Churchill Hospital and the Cancer Research UK/Medical Research Council Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology.

Radiation is not an old-fashioned therapy; it is still a mainstay of effective cancer treatment. The Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology is a world-leading centre that explores aspects of radiation biology and radiotherapy that could yield new advances in treatments, saving lives and reducing side effects for patients.

The human body is designed to prevent tumours from growing so when a tumour has formed; those tumour cells have already endured harsh conditions.

Tumour cells are deprived of oxygen, for example, something that does not occur in cells elsewhere in the body. As tumours adapt to a lack of oxygen, they become stronger, more aggressive and more difficult to treat.

This situation is known as tumour hypoxia; the more prevalent these hypoxic regions are, the more likely the patient will die of the disease.

Unfortunately, one of the problems of tumour hypoxia is that such cells are largely resistant to radiotherapy. Radiotherapy works by damaging and ultimately killing cells, but it needs oxygen to achieve this goal.

This means the tumour cells with less oxygen (the hypoxic ones) do not receive the full dose of radiotherapy. As the hypoxic cells are already the most aggressive part of the tumour, after radiotherapy the strongest part of the tumour can then regrow.

Our research group is looking at how tumour cells manage to survive despite insufficient oxygen and once we know this, we can develop more effective therapies. In addition, we are researching whether particular combinations of therapies, radiation or new drugs, for example, can help kill off the hypoxic cells.

Although only some of the cells in a tumour might be hypoxic, we believe these are the “ultimate baddies” and if we don’t kill them, the cancer won’t be cured.

In future, if we can identify the patients with hypoxic tumours at an early stage, we can plan their therapy accordingly.

Being involved in cancer research is extremely rewarding. It is like being part of a huge global team focused on the same goal – beating cancer

Of course some of the most significant contributions to this team aren’t from scientists or doctors, but from the people who are committed to raising cancer awareness and fundraising.

I had the pleasure of being part of a team that recently took part in the first Oxford Cancer Research UK Relay for Life, a 24-hour walkathon at Oxford Rugby Football Club in North Hinksey village. We had a great time.

It didn’t rain and I didn’t get the 3am walking shift. Most importantly, however, the team raised over £600 for cancer research. We can’t wait for next year’s event and we would be delighted to welcome more volunteers.