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NHS Choices on bowel cancer risk, pancreatic cancer growth, and a golden bullet for breast cancer

by Kat Arney | Analysis

3 November 2010

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NHS Choices

The NHS Choices blog delves into the science behind the health headlines.

The excellent NHS Choices Behind the Headlines blog has a trio of intriguing cancer stories this week.

First, they look at the science behind five tips that “could cut the risk of bowel cancer” by nearly a quarter. These tips appeared in media stories that were based on a large study involving more than 50,000 people in Denmark.

Reassuringly, these aren’t faddy foods or impossible exercise regimes, but sensible, evidence-based health messages. One in four cases of bowel cancer could be prevented  if people drank less alcohol, cut down on red meat, took more exercise, watched their waist size and stopped smoking.

NHS Choices points out:

“These findings are further evidence that lifestyle factors affect the risk of cancer, including colorectal cancer. Although the greatest reduction in risk is seen when people follow the recommendations in all areas, just sticking to the guidelines in one additional area reduces a person’s risk.”

Next, the NHS blog investigates new research suggesting that pancreatic cancer may “lurk in the body for many years before patients fall ill” – which we covered on our news feed.

Pancreatic cancer is often only diagnosed once it has spread, and is difficult to treat successfully – it’s an area that Cancer Research UK is focusing on as part of our research strategy.  The new research, originally published in the journal Nature by scientists in the US and Edinburgh, shows that pancreatic cancer may start growing 18 years before it spreads to other parts of the body.

The NHS blog explains:

“While its conclusions would need to be confirmed in further studies, [these results] suggest that there could be a large window of opportunity to detect and treat the cancer before it spreads and becomes lethal.”

Finally, they report on research from the US looking at whether heated gold nanoparticles could provide a new treatment for breast cancer.  Although it’s an interesting technique, it has only been tested in the lab so far.

As the blog explains:

“Although this particular treatment shows promise, it is some way from being usable as a treatment for women with breast cancer. Before it could be tested in humans, this type of new treatment would have to undergo the usual sequence of pre-clinical trials to demonstrate its safety and effectiveness. However, the authors report that similar types of heat are currently being trialled as treatments for other types of cancer, and they may soon inform us of the technique’s potential.”

Find out more about the science behind these stories and many more health-related headlines on the NHS Choices Behind the Headlines blog.