Maths + Cancer

Exploring how maths and stats help with cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment – and the stories behind the researchers making it happen

Maths + Cancer with Dr Vicky Neale

The Maths + Cancer podcast explores the extraordinary and unexpected ways mathematics is being applied to cancer research.

Its host, Dr Vicky Neale, is a mathematician at the University of Oxford. She holds the position of Whitehead Lecturer at the Mathematical Institute and Balliol College, as well as being a Supernumerary Fellow at Balliol.

This podcast series is both a personal and professional endeavour for Vicky. Since March 2021, she has been receiving treatment for a rare form of cancer, prompting her to discover more about how her colleagues in the mathematical community are contributing to cancer research – from prevention, through to diagnosis and treatment.

Throughout the series she will talk to a range of experts to find out more about the role of mathematics and statistics in cancer research, as well as to discover more about the people behind the work.

In the first four episodes, she will discuss the relevance of maths to cancer with Professor Philip Maini and explore the importance of the communication of risk with Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter.

She’ll also be chatting with Medical Physicist Dr Tom Whyntie about the role of maths in medical imaging and cancer treatment, and seeing how numbers might not tell the whole story with Professor Hannah Fry.

Listen to the podcast:

An image of Dr Vicky Neale outside, smiling

Dr Vicky Neale

Dr Vicky Neale

A portrait photo of Professor Philip Maini wearing a suit and tie

Professor Philip Maini

Professor Philip Maini

Episode 1: The relevance of maths to cancer with Professor Philip Maini

In the first episode of the series, Vicky talks to Philip Maini, Director of the Wolfson Centre for Mathematical Biology and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford.   

Here, they discuss how mathematical modelling can help researchers and doctors to improve the quality of life for people receiving cancer treatment.

Their conversation covers how mathematical modelling can be used in calculating tumour growth and treatment scenarios. They explore the application of modelling to treatment dosages and clinical trials, as well its importance in surgical approaches to tumour and tissue removal.

They also discuss Professor Maini's own career and extensive work mentoring students. Highlighting the collaborative nature of modelling in cancer research, Professor Maini indicates that this is an area where mathematics and science meet to ‘move the knowledge forward’.

Listen to Episode 1:

Listen to the podcast on Spotify.

Episode 2: Communicating the evidence with Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter

In the second episode of the series, Vicky talks to Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, Chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge.

A leading statistician, and author, Professor Spiegelhalter discusses his work on the successful Predict tools for breast and prostate cancer, which help patients make informed decisions about their cancer treatment.

Vicky and Professor Spiegelhalter explore the role of statisticians in communicating risk to the public, and how patients can be empowered to engage with clinicians in a meaningful way when weighing up the benefits and risks of treatment.

Here, they also talk about the human side of cancer, and the care that is needed when communicating cancer risks.

Listen to Episode 2:

Listen to the podcast on Spotify.

A portrait photo of Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, leaning slightly to one side

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter

A selfie taken by Dr Tom Whyntie, wearing an NHS lanyard

Dr Tom Whyntie

Dr Tom Whyntie

Episode 3: Medical imaging and radiotherapy with Tom Whyntie

In the third episode of the series, Vicky talks to Dr Tom Whyntie, Teaching Fellow in the Department of Oncology and Director of Studies for the MSc Radiation Biology at the University of Oxford.

Here, they explore Dr Whyntie’s career – from his work as a particle physicist on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, to using medical imaging to improve cancer treatments.

They discuss how mathematics is being used to optimise cancer care, and how to make sense of the ‘epic amounts of data’ behind the technology.

Listen to Episode 3:

Listen to the podcast on Spotify.

Episode 4: Numbers don't tell the whole story with Professor Hannah Fry

In the fourth episode of the series, Vicky talks to Professor Hannah Fry – mathematician, science presenter and ‘all-round badass’.

Presenter of the 2022 BBC2 documentary Making Sense of Cancer with Hannah Fry, Professor Fry talks to Vicky about the difficulties of using probabilities in using medical statistics and the importance of asking the right questions when it comes to the risks involved with cancer treatment.

Here, they discuss how their own experiences have shaped their perspectives, and the tough choices that face those making decisions on cancer care and the different treatment options available.

Listen to Episode 4:

Listen to the podcast on Spotify.

A portrait photo of Professor Hannah Fry, sat down in a row of chairs in a theatre

Professor Hannah Fry

Professor Hannah Fry