In a new study of clinical guidelines for cancer, papers from researchers based in the UK are cited nearly three times more often than would be expected.

The study, reported this week in the British Journal of Cancer, examined 43 clinical guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and the Scottish Medicines Consortium. It also found that Cancer Research UK supported over one-third of the clinical trials which were cited as evidence in these guidelines, a larger share than those supported either by the pharmaceutical industry as a whole or the UK government.

Researchers from universities, hospitals and institutes based in Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Glasgow were most frequently cited in the guidelines, which form the basis of the clinical care given to cancer patients and are devised from an evidence base which includes peer-reviewed research.

The findings demonstrate the real practical impact of British research funding and that cancer research in the UK is “punching above its weight,” said lead author Professor Richard Sullivan, who conducted the study when he was director of clinical programmes at Cancer Research UK, and is now at the London School of Economics and the European Cancer Research Managers Foundation.

"Even taking into account the fact that UK clinical guidelines are inevitably going to be skewed in favour of UK-based research because of the make-up of our healthcare services, we still found that the impact of UK cancer research on clinical practice was disproportionately higher than would be expected – which is a credit to the exceptionally strong research base that we have in this country,” said Prof Sullivan.

The study also revealed indirect evidence that UK cancer research has as impact internationally, particularly in western Europe. While such research conducted in the UK contributes to around 6.5% of oncology research globally, nearly 20% of cancer research emanating from the UK contributed to the 43 NICE clinical guidelines which were devised before 2006, it revealed.

The findings were welcomed by Kate Law, director of clinical trials at Cancer Research UK, who pointed out that NICE is seen to be a world leader in the development of quality, evidence-based guidelines for cancer care. Therefore, she added: “It's crucial that the government and NHS work together to ensure that these guidelines are being uniformly implemented across the country so that all cancer patients can benefit from them.”

- The study analysed just over 3,000 references cited across almost 800 research papers over 25 years. The peak years of guideline references were 1999-2001.