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News digest – immunotherapy, smart-bombs, stress and big babies

by Henry Scowcroft | Analysis

20 July 2012

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Read up on the latest cancer news

Here’s our round-up of all the week’s developments and media coverage of research on cancer:

  • The week began with a high-profile BBC Newsnight piece about aspirin and cancer. Here at Cancer Research UK, we’re excited by the growing evidence that the drug could help prevent (or even treat) certain types of cancer, but need to stress that people should only consider taking the drug after talking to their GP – it’s not for everyone. Our must-read blog post from a few months ago discusses the balance of risks and benefits.
  • Monday also saw a story about a new anti-cancer ‘smart bomb’, developed by US researchers. This is extremely preliminary work, yet to be tested fully in patients, but we were drawn to the beautiful graphic that accompanied the story, picked up by several papers and fully explained in the Mirror (and even more so in the original press release).

  • Tuesday saw BBC’s Newsnight continue its focus on cancer, with an upbeat piece  about immunotherapy – a hugely exciting area of research that holds considerable promise. The segment also included the amazing announcement of the largest ever single donation we’ve had – £10million towards the Francis Crick Institute. We’re all feeling incredibly humble about this, and are hugely grateful to the anonymous donor for their generosity.
  • On Wednesday, The Lancet published a new estimate of the world-wide death toll due to inactivity. This drew widespread coverage comparing inactivity with smoking. On one level, this comparison is fair – inactivity is linked to a wide variety of diseases, including certain cancers, and worldwide government action is needed to create a better, more ‘pro-activity’ environment. Butfor individuals , the dangers of smoking far outweigh those from inactivity – comparing the two in this way is a little simplistic, we feel. NHS Choices had a great write up of the research; we’ll be blogging about this in due course.
  • Also on Wednesday, we saw headlines about stress ‘making breast cancer spread to the bone’. This is a poor reflection of the underlying research (which was actually quite interesting). We wrote this post about why stress and cancer is a controversial topic.
  • New research from a team in Oxford concluded that the dramatic improvements in childhood cancer survival over the last few decades have been directly down to clinical trials of new treatments. We covered this on our news feed.
  • An investigation by GP Magazine found that some schools may not be offering girls the HPV vaccine, which protects against cervical cancer, for religious reasons. The story was covered by several newspapers, including the Telegraph and the Guardian.
  • The Guardian also published an opinion piece in support of our campaign to get tobacco products sold in plain packs – still with health warnings but without any kind of branding. The government has extended the consultation to 10th August, but the tobacco industry is spending vast sums of money on advertising. Please, please, please sign our petition and encourage your friends and family to do so too.
  • Experimental lung cancer drug, crizotinib was awarded a European license. This means  it will likely be available in due course under the Cancer Drugs Fund, for patients in England. NICE will also assess its suitability for the wider NHS.
  • And finally, we saw stories alleging that ‘having a bigger baby’ can increase breast cancer risk – a finding that will have left many women scratching their heads and wondering what is going on. Such studies can be helpful for scientists to confirm they’re on the right track (as they can yield more information about the underlying causes of cancer – in this case, oestrogen levels). But they don’t really help the public and can cause confusion and anxiety. Judith Potts blogged for the Telegraph about the frustration that such stories can cause.

See you next week,