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News digest – chemotherapy resistance, iron and bowel cancer, teen smokers and more

by Emma Smith | Analysis

11 August 2012

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This week’s cancer news

The media spotlight has been firmly fixed on the Olympics and celebrating the most successful GB medal haul for over a hundred years. But in among all the sporting excitement there have been some important gems of science and some interesting news about tobacco out there too:

  • Our hearts dropped on Monday, when we spotted some inaccurate stories about ‘backfiring’ chemo. The news stories were sparked by a fascinating US study about healthy cells around tumours helping cancer to become resistant to treatment (here’s our own news story). It’s an important finding that may help scientists to develop ways to overcome resistance and improve a patient’s response to treatment. Unfortunately, this got lost in translation in some headlines – we put the record straight in this blog post.
  • And in a related story, a study from Belfast showed this week that a protein in healthy cells surrounding the tumour is a potential target for treatment, as it helps to turn off the communication channels that help the cancer to invade local tissue and spread. The research was supported by our Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre in Belfast – which is part of a network we help to fund – and was covered by the BBC.

  • The Department of Health consultation on the future of tobacco packaging closed yesterday. The good news is more than 75,000 people signed our petition in favour of plain packaging. We wrote an article about why tobacco control works, which was picked up by the Huffington Post. And our policy director, Sarah Woolnough appeared on BBC radio 4 yesterday morning to debate plain packaging with Patrick Basham – who we’ve written about before. This provoked some discussion on twitter:

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  • On the same topic, we reported a small UK study that has shown that teenagers who occasionally smoke are more likely to pay attention to health warnings on cigarette packets that have been stripped of branding. By supporting plain, standardised tobacco packaging, we want to give teenagers one less reason to start smoking. We really hope the government listen to the thousands of people who have supported our campaign and introduce plain packaging.
  • And again on the subject of smoking, important news from the Million Women Study out this week showed that women smoking 20 cigarettes a day are doubling their risk of developing Hodgkin’s lymphoma and some other bone marrow cancers. Other types of blood cancers were also more frequent amongst women who smoked but there was less of an effect. These findings yet again underline the importance of smoking as a cause of many different types of cancer.
  • On Thursday we released news of how high levels of iron in people with a fault in a crucial anti-cancer gene could raise their risk of bowel cancer. Our scientists found that mice with a faulty APC gene that were given high iron levels had a two to three times increased chance of developing bowel cancer. The researchers are developing treatments that reduce the amount of iron in the bowel and are planning trials to see if such drugs could lower the risk of developing bowel cancer in the people who are at high risk of the disease.
  • Sirolimus, a cheap and widely available drug used to treat transplant patients, has potential as a cancer treatment when combined with grapefruit juice, according to a preliminary clinical trial in the US (here’s our news story). This doesn’t mean that cancer patients should go out and drink the juice though, as it can raise or lower the amount of other drugs in the body.
  • People who can get a routine appointment at their GP’s surgery within 48 hours are less likely to be diagnosed with cancer during an emergency hospital admission, which has a positive effect on the outcome of their disease. The press release highlights the importance of ensuring everyone has equal access to primary health care.
  • We spotted this nice interview with Dr Barry Thompson from our London Research Institute. Dr Thompson describes his research into how the precise three-dimensional orientation of cells affects their development into tissues. Some of these signals control cell growth and they may go wrong and cause cancers to develop. Learn more about quirkily named Hippo signalling, and proteins called Crumbs, Expanded, Merlin, Kibra and Yorkie!
  • On Friday, The Telegraph published this fascinating article about the many different approaches researchers are using to beat cancer. We were pleased to see that Cancer Research UK scientist Professor Tim Illidge was featured, who is working on ways to harness the body’s immune system to treat cancer.

And finally

  • Last month we linked to a thought-provoking discussion of whether ‘targeted’ cancer treatments are living up to their hype of being more effective and having fewer side effects. In an interesting follow on, a new study from the Drug Development Unit at The Institute of Cancer Research falls firmly in the favour of newer targeted drugs. The study found targeted cancer therapies appear to have a seven times lower risk of causing serious side effects compared to conventional chemotherapy.