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films that make a difference

Curing Cancer

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47 minutes
Brian Woods

Every two minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer. From that life-changing moment the race is on to find a successful treatment before the disease gets too far. With unprecedented access to the new Macmillan Cancer Centre at University College Hospital, Curing Cancer follows four patients taking part in trials of some of the most advanced cancer treatments in the world.

Dennis, Debra, Jeffery and Pete are all facing the future with trepidation, but they have all agreed to take part in ground-breaking trials aimed at improving the way cancer is diagnosed and treated.  Made by BAFTA winning director, Brian Woods, this film compassionately follows treatments from lab to ward and tells the story of the anxiety of diagnosis, the joy of success and the desperation of a last chance clinical trial. Philosophical about how cancer changes lives, but also fascinating in terms of what it reveals about new treatments coming through, this film is a sensitive and optimistic insight into the realities of living with cancer.

The film witnesses first-hand how science is being harnessed in the ever more successful fight against cancer. In a snapshot of where the UK is in the fight, the leading doctors in their field give a fascinating insight into how the trial process works and how new treatments come on line.

Debra was diagnosed with a rare form of sarcoma which has now spread to her lungs. Difficult to treat with chemotherapy or radiotherapy, consultant Rowland Illing offers her a treatment called microwave ablation, a cutting edge procedure which can destroy tumours without the need for invasive surgery.

Dennis has been living with lymphoma for eight years.  With all conventional treatments exhausted, Dennis and his wife are faced with a stark choice – either palliative “end-of-life” care, or an experimental drug, never before used in the UK, and being tested by scientist Rakesh Popat.

Jeffery fears he has prostate cancer, there’s a family history of the disease.  Diagnosis of prostate cancer can be hit and miss, with a chance of false results from traditional biopsies. Jeffery decides to take part in a trial of a new diagnostic process.  It should mean that when his consultant, Hashim Ahmed delivers the news, it will be with more certainty.

For Pete that day has passed, he knows he has prostate cancer and is gradually coming to terms with all that that may mean. His father died from prostate cancer, and he fears the same fate if he doesn't do something radical.  The possible side effects of surgery are alarming – impotence, incontinence and worse.  His consultant, Louise Dickinson offers him another option, the trial of a new experimental treatment that uses high intensity ultrasound.

In early trials side-effects seem to be dramatically reduced.  The risk, however, is that the treatment is so new that no-one can yet say how successful it will be in preventing the cancer returning.

Using CGI the film is a scientific exploration told through the personal journeys of the individuals taking part in the trials. Sensitively filmed at home and at hospital, the film explores the emotional realities of living with cancer combined with the intense anticipation of potentially finding a cure. Through their relationship with the clinicians, we learn the science, and discover the success or failures of their treatment as they do.


The film was awarded the Grierson Documentary Award for Best Science programme in November 2015.  You can watch the award being presented below.

To read about the making of the film - as told in Broadcast magazine, click here.

You can also watch the stories of some other UCH patients below

Darren has bowel cancer which has spread to his liver, he's seeing a specialist team and the Cancer Centre about having a very targeted type of chemotherapy, aimed at delivering drugs just to the tumours in his liver, and sparing the rest of his body.

Katie was first diagnosed with a brain tumour when she was 12, now 20, and studying at Brighton University, she's come to UCH for a special kind of radiotherapy to try to shrink her tumour

What is cancer?  Experts from UCLH explain what how cancer arises and what it is.

How do we treat cancer?  The UCLH team explain the various different approaches that can be used to treat cancer.

Thinking about going on a trial? Watch the video below to see how ovarian cancer patient, Joanna Price, quizzed her oncologist about the trial he was proposing.


Debra's story - microwave ablation of lung secondaries from sarcoma.


Jeffery's story - a template biopsy to test for prostate cancer.


Dennis's story - taking part in a last chance trial for lymphoma.


Pete's story - treating prostate cancer with high intensity focussed ultrasound.