It’s news time

  • We launched a clinical trial (press release) to test whether curcumin – an extract from the curry spice turmeric – could improve treatment for advanced bowel cancer. This doesn’t mean curry cures cancer (as we pointed out here), or that people with bowel cancer should take curcumin supplements. But this early-stage trial could help us find out whether curcumin’s promise in the lab could be translated into patient benefit.
  • Around one in six worldwide cancers – two million new cases every year – are caused by infections, according to a French study published on Wednesday and covered on our news feed and the BBC. Eighty per cent of these cases occur in less developed parts of the world, where measures to prevent and treat infections are not always widely available. (On a related note, it’s worth reading Olly’s post on the ‘blame game’, and this post by Ed Yong, on why we need to be careful about how such stats are explained).
  • Measuring a type of genetic variation in the blood of men with prostate cancer could help predict how their disease will develop, according to US research published on Tuesday (covered here). If confirmed, the work might help towards the development of a test to distinguish slow growing prostate cancers from more aggressive ones – something we urgently need to improve to help men diagnosed with the disease.
  • Wednesday brought news from the US, where researchers have discovered that a gene called PREX2 is faulty in some people with malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. The discovery of the mutated BRAF gene by our scientists led to the development of a new melanoma drug that targets these faults, so this work could be a step towards more new drugs for people with this hard-to-treat disease.
  • We were pleased to find out on Thursday that a new drug for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is to be made available on the NHS. Erlotinib (Tarceva) is suitable for a small but significant proportion of NSCLC patients whose cancer is caused by mutations in a gene called EFGR (which our scientists first linked to cancer in 1984). While it’s neither a cure nor the only option for these patients, it’s great that there’s now another potentially life-extending treatment option.
  • US scientists have developed a new way to help patients with a type of brain tumour called glioblastoma better tolerate the effects of chemotherapy. The “stem cell shielding” (BBC) technique involves using genetically modified stem cells to protect healthy bone marrow from the cell-killing effects of treatment. A lot more work is needed, but these are interesting and encouraging results that could boost the effectiveness of temozolomide, a drug Cancer Research UK discovered and developed.
  • And in related news, we published this post in response to several media stories about plain packaging, that weren’t as balanced as they could have been.

And finally… there were a couple ‘scare’ stories in the media this week, which on closer look, shouldn’t be a cause for concern:

  • This Daily Mail headline about “new breast cancer fears” is unfounded. The story is about research on a chemical called bisphenol A, which is present in some food packaging, and its effects on breast tissue in monkeys. But the study didn’t gather enough data to be certain its findings weren’t down to chance. Even if bisphenol A affects the development of breast tissue in other primates, that’s a long way from showing that it might be responsible for cases of breast cancer in humans.
  • Along with our other SunSmart advice, our recommendation is to stick to the sunscreen, despite some dodgy headlines this week claiming that a key ingredient in such products causes skin damage. The researchers themselves say their work isn’t confirmed and is at a very early stage, so shouldn’t inspire anyone to sideline the sun cream. And, a crucial point, the full research hasn’t even been published yet.