Understanding Research

Whenever news of a promising development in prostate cancer research is reported, the hopes of many men with prostate cancer and their family members are raised.

It is important to remember, though, that a treatment which has been successful in the laboratory or in animals must be tested very carefully in humans, and this process can often take years.

The information below offers some advice for interpreting news about medical research. There are descriptions of the different kinds of scientific studies you might hear about, and what they will mean to you. There is also a section on how to interpret statistics about risk in news reports, and some questions to ask yourself when reading about developments in prostate cancer research.

Understanding media stories on research

Media reports on research can often be confusing. It is quite common for the media to make risk factors sound more dramatic or potential benefits sound more promising. It's important to be critical when reading or listening to reports of new medical findings. First of all, an understanding of the different types of research would be useful.

Types of research

There are 4 main types of research:

  • Basic
  • Translational
  • Clinical
  • Psychosocial/Survivorship

It is important to know that any information about medical research in the media may not apply to you and it is best to discuss any issues with healthcare professionals.

Some questions that can help you understand how relevant a media story is to you include:

  • Was the study in cells, animals or people?
  • Did the study include men with prostate cancer?
  • Where was the research being done?
  • If a new treatment was being tested, were there side effects?

Further information

Basic Research

Basic Research means looking at small 'cultures' of cells from humans, or even at microscopic organisms like bacteria, viruses or yeasts. Experiments like this which take place in a test tube or Petri dish are called "in vitro" experiments. They can help scientists to understand how cells work, and what goes wrong with them to cause disease in humans. To see examples of basic research that we have funded, select Basic on the filter menu under Type of Research on the Funded Research page.

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Translational Research

Translational Research involves scientists looking to develop a treatment for a disease like prostate cancer, they will first test the effects of promising drugs on prostate cancer cells that have been removed from patients. Before scientists can test whether a new drug or treatment will work in humans, they must first prove that it is safe in animals. This is required under law, and serves to protect people from being given dangerous treatments. In these types of in vivo experiments animal models are used to understand how a disease and a drug to treat it works. To see examples of translational research that we have funded, select Translational on the filter menu under Type of Research on the Funded Research page. For more information on the use of animals in medical research please look at our FAQ page.

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Clinical Research

Clinical Research involves testing drugs, treatments and tests on men with prostate cancer once it has been determined that this is safe following experiments with animals. Some treatments which involve less harmful, practical solutions such as use of counselling or exercise are trialled immediately on humans. For testing of new drugs, clinical trials are used, which are a series of studies beginning with a very small group of people, and can take place over many years before products are licensed for use. Read more about Clinical Trials. To see examples of clinical research we have funded, select Clinical on the filter menu under Type of Research on the Funded Research page.

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Psychosocial/Survivorship Research

Psychosocial/Survivorship Research looks at how diagnosis and treatment of cancer affects patients, their families and carers. It looks at how improvements can be made in how health professionals communicate to patients and how they and their families are supported. It also examines the long-term side effects of treatments such as surgery and drugs on men and their families, and how improvements can be made to the way support and care is provided. Psychological, physical and social problems result from treatment and reduce quality of life for cancer sufferers. Survivorship research is about helping survivors of cancer, that is men living with and beyond prostate cancer, and aims to help men and their families to deal with prostate cancer, its treatments and life after cancer. To see examples of psychosocial/survivorship research we have funded, select Survivorship on the filter menu under Type of Research on the Funded Research page.

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Was the study in cells, animals or people?

The results of research in people are most likely to be meaningful for you. The earliest stages of prostate cancer research are carried out in small 'cultures' of cells. If you hear about positive results in cells, it is important to remember that the treatment must next be tested in animals, and then enter into clinical trials in humans.

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Did the study include men with prostate cancer?

Often cancer treatments are reported to have been successful in clinical trials, and the article suggests that they may be able to treat a number of cancers, including prostate cancer. While this may sound promising, it is important to remember that before a treatment can be given to men with prostate cancer, it must first go through the clinical trial phases, which could take years.

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Where was the research being done?

If the research has been conducted outside of the UK, it might be that the drug would first become available abroad. This is because different countries have different authorities which allow a drug to be marketed.

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If a new treatment was being tested, were there side effects?

If the news was reporting a clinical trial, it is important to know whether the trial found side effects. Serious side effects might slow the clinical trial process down, as researchers would have to return to the first stages with any changes they make to a treatment.

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