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News digest – conference updates, womb cancer stats, height and ovarian cancer, and more…

by Henry Scowcroft | Analysis

6 April 2012

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man reading newspaper

It's time for our round-up of the week's headlines

It’s a longer-than-usual digest this week, as hundreds of scientists from around the world descend on Chicago for the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting.

So as well as our usual roundup of the week’s cancer news, we’ve also selected some noteworthy research from the conference that hit the headlines.

You can read more about any of the stories by clicking on the links.

AACR conference highlights

  • Our scientists presented work showing that the diabetes drug metformin doubled the effectiveness of an experimental skin cancer drug. This work hasn’t yet gone beyond the lab, but adds to growing evidence that metformin has anti-cancer properties.
  • US researchers released encouraging early clinical trial results of a new prostate cancer drug at the conference. The drug, called galeterone effectively reduced levels of a prostate cancer marker in the blood of patients. We hope this early promise is translated into successful larger-scale studies. The Guardian had this write-up.

  • The hormone oestrogen may be involved in lung cancer, and worsen the effects of tobacco smoke on the disease, according to early lab work in mice, presented at the conference (written up here by MedicalXpress). Much more work is needed to see if these results also apply in humans, but these results openup intriguing avenues for more research. l
  • US scientists working on the immune system uncovered key molecules that could help to explain why women who have both breast cancer and rheumatoid arthritis appear to be more likely to have advanced disease. This could be an important early step to new treatments to stop breast cancer spread.
  • We spotted this excellent article summarising several talks at the conference about the challenges and opportunities of using genome sequencing technologies in cancer research.
  • We also noted headlines claiming that caffeine and exercise ‘work together to ward off skin cancer’. This came from a study presented at the AACR conference, which looked at the effect of caffeine and exercise on skin tumours in mice. Obviously this is a long way from saying there could be an effect on skin cancer in humans. Check our SunSmart pages for advice on the best way to reduce the risk of skin cancer.


In other news

  • Deaths from womb (uterine) cancer have risen by nearly 20 per cent in the last decade, according to figures we released yesterday. Why? Experts think obesity could be a key factor driving up the number of women who develop the disease. The below graphic shows the main statistics: [insert graphic]

Womb cancer mortality graphic

  • Giving patients fewer doses of chemotherapy increases the effectiveness of a type of Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment, and reduces side effects, according to German research published this week. Such treatment could be less disruptive to people’s lives.
  • US research suggested that improved cancer survival rates mean that up to half of those diagnosed with cancer actually die from other diseases. This work highlights that doctors need to consider the wider needs of long-term cancer survivors, which can include treating them for other conditions such as heart disease.
  • New legislation comes in to force today, removing displays of tobacco products in supermarkets across England. This is legislation we campaigned vigorously for over the last few years, and we’re delighted it’s now being implemented.
  • The Department of Health announced the locations of two cutting-edge ‘proton therapy’ units: Manchester and London. The units will be up and running by 2017, and will initially focus on complex childhood cancers.
  • There was coverage of research by our scientists showing a link between height and weight and risk of ovarian cancer. Taller women do seem to have a slightly increased risk of ovarian cancer, but this is a small increase to a small risk. As reported in the Daily Mail, if 16 in every thousand women who are 5 ft tall were diagnosed with ovarian cancer, then 20 women in every thousand who are 5ft 6 would be expected to develop the disease. The study also acts as a useful reminder that women can reduce the risk of cancer by keeping to a healthy weight.
  • And finally, for those who are interested in a longer read, we’ve been following with interest an ongoing debate about the value of genetic information to predict illness. It was sparked by this New York Times article claiming that DNA’s power to predict illness is limited. Several scientists have since said that such media coverage undermines the value of genetics – you can read an excellent summary of the debate on Nature’s blog. And here’s an interview with one of the authors of the research that ignited the debate.

That’s all for now – have a great Easter, see you in a week.