This month’s breast cancer awareness campaign, backed by some of the world’s leading cancer charities, has provided a sobering reminder that despite vast improvements in survival rates, more than 1,000 women a week are still diagnosed with the disease.

It is just one of scores of cancers that can strike – and it is no wonder that billions of pounds a year are being spent worldwide to find effective cures for illnesses that will strike half the population in their lifetime.

Research and development is carried out by a huge range of firms, from drug makers to artificial intelligence designers, all driven by the desire to find the holy grail of combating this most feared of diseases.

Dan Coatsworth, stock market analyst at broker AJ Bell, says: ‘Many people like the idea of investing in a company searching for a cancer cure. They feel they are putting their money to a good cause and hopefully making a positive return on their investment, so it is a double win.’

The most obvious place for an investor to start is to purchase shares in pharmaceutical companies developing cancer-fighting drugs. But this can be risky.

Coatsworth says: ‘The downside of putting your money into pharmaceutical firms is that they can be high risk investments, particularly smaller companies which may not be generating any revenue and whose future success is pinned on a single product.

‘Treatments must go through many tests before being approved for commercial sale. This process can be lengthy and costly – companies will often come back to investors to ask for more cash in exchange for issuing new shares. Plus there is no guarantee the treatment will work once all the trials have been done.’

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