Partners of the UK's National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) spent more than £500 million on cancer research last year, nearly double the amount spent almost 10 years ago, says a new report.

Moreover, the amount invested in the three cancers with the poorest survival has increased even more in the period, with over four times as much money now being spent on oesophageal cancer and more than three times as much on cancers of the lung and pancreas, says the report, which has been published to mark 10 years of the NCRI.

The Institute consists of 21 government and charity partners plus the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), and its role is to promote joint planning and coordination for cancer research in the UK.

In 2002, when the NCRI first calculated its total spend on cancer research, the figure was £257 million, while the most recent data shows that the Institute partners spent £504 million in 2010 - these figures do not include research funding from the ABPI. Around 40% of the money goes towards basic research aimed at understanding the biology of cancer, which can then lead to the development of new treatments, and 25% is spent directly on treatment-related research.

Around 60% of the research is relevant to all types of cancer, and common forms of the disease such as breast, bowel and prostate cancer, as well as leukemia, still get a relatively high level of NCRI funding compared to other forms of the disease. Of the 40% of research which is specific to a particular type of cancer, breast cancer receives 20%, leukemia 15%, bowel cancer 10% and prostate cancer 8%.

But there have been improvements for cancers with the lowest survival rates - pancreatic, oesophageal and lung cancer; although they receive a smaller share of the funding, the amount spent on research into them has increased more than threefold.

"Because the portfolio has grown overall, it has been possible for research in some cancers to be boosted without having to cut back in other successful areas of research," said the Institute’s director, Jane Cope.

'It's the NCRI's job to ask where there are gaps in funding and to ensure the big questions in cancer research are being addressed. The most-funded cancers have remained at the top of the table but this report is evidence that our partners and the researchers they support are spotting those research needs and starting to plug the gaps," said Dr Cope.

"Given the current financial climate, it's unlikely research spend will continue to grow at the same rate, but whatever the income, NCRI partners will continue to give priority to areas with the greatest research need," she added.