Curious Films has won a commission from BBC Two for a one-off film following mathematician, author, and presenter Professor Hannah Fry as she documents her treatment for cancer and investigates whether current medical thinking about how to tackle the disease needs reassessing.

Having missed a smear test during the Covid-19 pandemic, Fry was diagnosed with stage three cervical cancer and told that she needed radical surgery to save her life.  As a way of coping, she decided to document her experience from the run-up to surgery and throughout her recovery.

Making Sense Of Cancer with Hannah Fry (1×60’) follows Hannah and her family through the process, as she’s eventually told the procedure has been a success. “But the radically invasive operation she undergoes changes her life forever. Since then, Hannah has struggled with the realisation that the cancer had never actually spread as far as oncologists feared.  No one knew it at the time, but the odds of her dying were much smaller than feared. Now, Hannah wants to use her insight as a mathematician to interrogate the assumptions and the calculations we make about how to treat cancer.”

Professor Hannah Fry says: “From the moment I was diagnosed, I’ve become obsessed with the data and statistics behind cancer, and it’s made me question all my assumptions about this disease. Through this documentary, I want to explore whether we – patients and specialists – are making the right choices in how we deal with cancer. Have we become so afraid of it, that we’ll do anything to fight it, no matter what the cost? And when we’re deciding whether to go ahead with terrible, life-changing treatments, how do we trade-off between the quantity of life, and its quality?”

Charlie Russell, Co-Founder, Curious Films says: “Hannah’s courage has led to a remarkable, intimate and deeply personal film, revealing what it’s like to be diagnosed with cancer, and the impact it has on your body, your identity and your loved ones. But she also goes further – asking a vital question and tackling what is almost a medical taboo: are there times when a life-changing treatment might not be the right thing to do?”

BBC Commissioning Editor Jack Bootle says: “This is so much more than a sad film about cancer. Hannah – with her trademark humour and intelligence – dares to ask a provocative question: are we always having honest conversations with our doctors about the benefits of cancer care? The answer she feels her way towards is complex and nuanced. It may surprise you.”


The doc is directed by Harriet Bird and executive produced by Dov Freedman and Charlie Russell for Curious Films. It was commissioned for BBC Two and iPlayer by Jack Bootle, Head of Commissioning, Science and Natural History.

Jon Creamer

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