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Dr Ellen Copson BSc, MB BS, FRCP, PhD

Associate Professor of Medical Oncology

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Dr Ellen Copson is Cancer Research UK Associate Professor in Medical Oncology within Medicine at the University of Southampton.

Dr Copson is an Associate Professor in Medical Oncology in the Cancer Sciences Division at the University of Southampton, Faculty of Medicine. She graduated in medicine with honours from the University of London in 1996 having also gained a first class Bachelor of Science degree in immunology. She went on to train in Medical Oncology firstly at St. George’s Hospital, London and then Southampton General Hospital, completing her specialist training in 2008. Between 2004 and 2007, Dr Copson undertook a PhD investigating DNA variants of unknown significance in the BRCA1 gene as a Cancer Research UK Clinical Fellow under the supervision of Professor Diana Eccles. This led to a particular interest in inherited breast cancer. In 2009 Dr Copson took up a position as a full-time NHS medical oncology consultant specializing in the medical treatment of breast cancer at Salisbury Foundation NHS Trust and Southampton University Hospital NHS Trust. She returned to academic medicine in 2012, accepting a position as a senior lecturer in medical oncology at Southampton University.

Dr Copson now combines her clinical breast cancer practice with clinical research. She is particularly interested in host factors which influence the response to systemic treatments for early breast cancer. She is a key member of the team currently analyzing data from a large national cohort study (the Prospective study of Outcomes in Sporadic versus Hereditary breast cancer, POSH study, CI Professor D. Eccles) and is currently working with the Biomedical Research Centre-Nutrition team on a programme of cohort studies which aim to investigate the impact of body composition and nutrition on the biology of early breast cancer and outcome of treatment early breast cancer. She also acts as clinical advisor for a number of pre-clinical studies investigating the biology of breast cancer, and for several early breast cancer survivorship studies. Dr Copson is principle investigator for a number of clinical trials in early and advanced breast cancer and a member of the NCRI Breast Cancer Clinical Studies Group from 2013-2019. She is particularly keen to promote research amongst trainees and in 2018 set up the National Breast Cancer Trainees Research Collaborative Group.

Dr Copson also has a particular interest in precision oncology in general. She chairs the national Oncogenetics Training Working Party and is the RCP “Genetics Champion” for medical oncology. In 2015, Dr Copson was appointed to the role of Cancer Lead for the Wessex Genomic Medicine Centre. She led recruitment of local cancer patients into the national 100,000 genomes project and co-chairs weekly regional molecular tumour board meetings.


BSc (First Class Hons) 1993 University of London

MB BS (Hons) 1996 University of London

MRCP (1999) Royal College of Physicians (London)

CCT in Medical Oncology (2009) PMETB

PhD (2008) University of Southampton

FRCP (2015) Royal College of Physicians (London)

Appointments held

Feb 2015 to present:
Cancer Research UK Associate Professor University of Southampton and Honorary Consultant in Medical Oncology, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust

Feb 2012 to 2015:
Cancer Research UK Senior Lecturer University of Southampton and Honorary Consultant in Medical Oncology, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust

Jun 2009-Feb 2012
Consultant in Medical Oncology, Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust and University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust

Jan 2004-July 2007
Cancer research UK Clinical Fellow, University of Southampton

Feb 2001 – June 2009
Specialist Registrar in Medical Oncology, Southampton General Hospital

Research interests

Breast cancer is still the commonest cancer in the western world. In the UK over 45000 women are diagnosed with this disease each year. Despite significant improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of early breast cancer, up to 20% of all patients develop a recurrence at some point during their lifetime and there are over 12000 deaths each year due to this disease. The last decade has seen recognition that breast cancer is made up of a number of different molecular subtypes and systemic treatments can now be tailored towards a patient’s individual tumour type. However, there is also compelling evidence that host factors such as age, body mass and ethnicity can influence the risk of disease recurrence and overall survival. Dr Copson is currently working with a number of research groups to investigate these issues with the long term aim of setting up interventional studies to optimise the care of patients with early breast cancer.

Ethnicity and breast cancer outcomes

The Southampton based Prospective study of Outcomes in Sporadic versus Hereditary breast cancer(POSH) study is a large, multi-centre cohort study investigating the effect of carrying a cancer pre-disposition gene on breast cancer prognosis (chief investigator-Professor Diana Eccles) which recruited over 3000 patients diagnosed with breast cancer at less than 40 years old. Analysis of data from this study cohort indicates that ethnicity is associated with characteristic pathological features, but that ethnicity is an independent marker of poor prognosis. Further work will investigate in detail the dose intensity of adjuvant treatments received by different ethnic groups and will examine whether this phenomenon can be explained by pharmacogenetics.

Obesity and breast cancer outcomes

Obesity is associated with an increased risk of post-menopausal breast cancer and an increased risk of disease recurrence in all age groups. In order to explore the relationship between obesity and breast cancer, Dr Copson has worked with the Biomedical Research centre-Southampton to set up cohort studies of newly diagnosed breast cancer patients and controls that will use novel technology to measure body composition at key points in the treatment process.

Breast cancer and alcohol

Alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer in a dose dependent fashion and causes ≥5000 cases of breast cancer per year in the UK. Alcohol consumption is rising, and is disproportionately high in middle-aged women in higher socioeconomic groups, which also have the highest incidence of breast cancer. Almost 25% of women aged 45-54 drink >14 units per week. However alcohol-specific health literacy is low and the majority of people drinking at increased and high risk levels are unaware that they are so doing. Although there is extensive evidence that Identification and Brief Advice (IBA) is effective in reducing alcohol use they are generally directed at individuals identified as ‘at risk’ of high alcohol intake on screening tools. The NHS Breast Screening Programme (NHSBSP) provides breast screening every 3 years for women aged 50-70 and presents a potential “teachable moment” for women to receive breast cancer prevention advice. Over 73% of invited women (>2 million), attend screening each year and cancers are diagnosed in less than 1% of these9. This project aimed to educate women about alcohol intake and breast cancer risk, and to empower women to modify their risk by monitoring their alcohol intake. We are exploring knowledge and attitudes of breast screening attenders and symptomatic breast clinic attenders in order to assess the feasibility of using a “Know Your Number” intervention in these populations.

Survivorship projects

Dr Copson is clinical advisor to the Horizon study of breast cancer survivors (CI. Prof Clare Foster).

Clinical Research

Dr Copson is principal investigator for a number of clinical trials in early and advanced breast cancer and chairs UHS/ University of Southampton quarterly Breast Research meetings. She is also a member of trial management groups and data monitoring committees for a number of national clinical research trials.


Cancer Sciences

Research project(s)

CANDO-3: Body composition and chemotherapy toxicity in women with early breast cancer

Chemotherapy doses are currently calculated from a patient’s height and weight. Patients with the same height and weight can have different amounts of blood, muscle and fatty tissue which can all affect the behaviour of chemotherapy drugs. This may be important for optimising chemotherapy treatment.

Post graduate student supervision

Current Mr Adam Heetun(MD)
Dr James Bennett
Dr Hayley McKenzie (PhD)

Dr Bryony Eccles (MD)

Regional responsibilities


  • Chair of national medical oncology oncogenetics training working party 2014-
  • RCP/ PHG medical oncology “genetics champion”- 2014-2017
  • Training lead: Genomics England Clinical Interpretation Partnership breast cancer domain 2015-
  • NCRI Breast Cancer Clinical Studies Group member  2013-2019
  • Chair of Breast Cancer Trainees National Research Collaboration, 2017-
  • RCP Speciality Examination Question Writer for medical oncology 2009-2015
  • RCP Medical Oncology Speciality Certificate Examining Board member, 2014-
  • World Cancer Research Fund Grant Panel Member, 2017-2021


  • Wessex Genomic Medical Centre lead for cancer –since 2015
  • Chair of Wessex Molecular Tumour Board since October 2017
  • South Coast network breast cancer research lead since 2015
  • Wessex Medical Oncology Training Programme Director– 2013-2017
  • Wessex Medical Oncology Deputy Training Programme Director since 2017


  • Chair-UHS breast clinical trials group meetings
  • Southampton Clinical Academic Training School lead for ACFs 2018-
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For the University of Southampton

Deputy Lead for Year 1 BM5/6/EU
Oncology subject lead for BM5/6/EU
Clinical attachments for BM5 students
Facilitator for BM4 medical course
Provides breast cancer plenary session for BM5 students
BmedSci and MMedSCi project supervisor
SoCATs lead for ACFs 2018-

For NHS Education England- Wessex deanery

Trainee Programme Director for medical oncology  2013- 2017
Deputy Trainee Programme Director for medical oncology since 2017

For the Royal College of Physicians

Question writer for medical oncology speciality examination 2008-2015
Medical Oncology Speciality Certificate Examining Board member -2014
Medical oncology “genetics champion”- 2014-2017
Chair of national medical oncology oncogenetics training working party -2014

Other National roles

Training lead for Genomics England Clinical Interpretation Partnership for breast cancer- 2015
Lead for national Breast Cancer Trainees Research Collaborative Group 2017-

Dr Ellen Copson
Somers Cancer Research Building (MP 824) Southampton General Hospital Tremona Road Southampton SO16 6YD

PA: Katie Bartlett
Direct tel: +44 (0)23 81205170
Direct fax: +44 (0)23 81205152

Room Number: SGH/CSB/MP824

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