Celebrating the women leading the fight against cancer

Whilst we are witnessing gender distribution of scientists and doctors improve, science and medicine have traditionally been male-dominated and according to UNESCO, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. There is clearly still work to be done to encourage girls and women worldwide to pursue these kinds of careers. This International Day of Women and Girls in Science we wanted to recognise some of the remarkable women who have made huge contributions to cancer research so far and inspire us here at Check4Cancer every day.

When talking about women in cancer research, it seems only right to start with Marie Curie, the physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. Without her work, we wouldn’t understand that radioactivity can not only cause cancer but also provides an important method of diagnosis and one of the most commonly used treatments. As well as her fundamental research into uranium and radioactivity, Curie developed mobile radiography units to provide X-Rays to field hospitals during World War I. Today, radioactivity is an essential tool in both the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

We’ve all heard of Marie Curie, but there are hundreds of other women who are less well known but just as vital to cancer research progress. One such woman is Dr Audrey Evans, responsible for the study and treatment of childhood cancers including neuroblastoma. She was one of the first people to research autologous bone marrow transplantation and conducted some of the first trials for now well-established chemotherapies. Dr Evans also founded the original Ronald McDonald House, providing the families of young cancer patients with a place to stay during treatment.

Dr Jane C. Wright also undertook pioneering work into chemotherapy and is one of the most famous black women in medicine. Dr Wright developed a ground-breaking technique to test the effects of potential drugs on cancer cells by using human tissue culture. This helped chemotherapy transition from a last resort to the first choice of treatment for many cancers. She is credited with the use of methotrexate to treat skin cancer and breast cancer. Dr Wright also played a very active role outside the lab, including becoming the first woman elected president of the New York Cancer Society and being a joint founder of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Gertrude B. Elion was another leader in medical research and was jointly awarded the 1988 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for her work on a rational, scientific approach to drug discovery. Elion is most well-known for her antivirals research, but is also credited for work on Mercaptopurine, the first treatment for leukemia, and Nelarabine also used in leukemia and lymphoma chemotherapy. Most importantly, the development of rational drug development has had much wider reaching implications, accelerating the discovery of drugs across the board, including those we use most commonly in cancer treatment.

Not only are women responsible for making historic transformations to cancer research, but they continue to research, diagnose, treat and support people with cancer every day. We’d like to celebrate the hard work and successes of all the incredible women in our team, from doctors and nurses to genetic counsellors and clinic coordinators. We’re proud to be an equal opportunities employer that encourages women to pursue careers in science and we are always looking for impressive candidates who share our mission to save lives. Check out our current vacancies to find out more.