There were plenary lectures; workshops, symposia and detailed sessions covering specific interests; posters and abstracts; a trade exhibition; and time for networking. The networking was a chance to catch up with who is doing what and to learn how people and organisations fit into the overall jigsaw of cancer research and practice.
There were also, it goes without saying, social events as part of the networking process. Barts Cancer Institute hosted on Tuesday evening a reception held at The Beatles Story. To be honest, that wasn't a museum I'd have thought of visiting, but it turns out that would have been a mistake. There are interesting period items and room sets and the reception itself was held in an area replicating The Cavern. It was a spectacular place in which to hold a reception and was suitably packed!
There was a considerable consumer presence at this conference (although as you might expect, there was some debate about the expression "consumer"!) with areas set aside specifically for those there on consumer bursaries to meet each other. Consumers also led a few sessions. The NCRI smoothes the way for consumers to attend with a bursary system and by booking accommodation at a hotel opposite the Convention Centre.
The major problem with the conference was the one common to all good conferences, namely choosing which sessions to attend. Sometimes the choice was clear, but on several occasions I really did want to be in two or three places at once.
The theme of stratified medicine, choosing the right treatment for the right patient, came up time and time again across various sites and treatment types. There were some surprises, particularly in the area of chemoprevention and the lack of positive effects from antioxidants. Another surprise was hearing that about 24% of all cancer patients first present as emergencies and that a similar number have been to their GP with their symptoms between three and five times before getting a diagnosis.
There were some exciting developments too. One of these is the Breast Cancer Campaign Tissue Bank, which has had meaningful patient involvement right from the beginning. It is a collaborative project by four of the UK's leading research institutions and there was a demonstration of the online search and request systems at a workshop and reception on Monday evening.
The conference was a packed, worthwhile and enjoyable three days in which I learnt a great deal, met with some very interesting people and thought a bit more about the way in which I would like to contribute to the process of public and patient involvement in cancer research.