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News digest: a prostate cancer ‘sea change’, smoking stats, E. coli and more

by Emma Smith | Analysis

18 August 2012

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Hot off the press – the week’s cancer news

Here’s our weekly round-up – it’s been a particularly good-news week in the area of prostate cancer research and care, but there were a number of other high profile stories too:

  • We were delighted to hear that abiraterone is now available in Scotland, meaning it is now available for men with advanced prostate cancer across the UK. This story was reported by the BBC and we discussed it in more detail in our blog post.
  • There’s more good news on the way for men with advanced prostate cancer. A new drug called enzalutamide was found both to extend and improve the quality of life for men with advanced disease. Taken alongside the availability of abiraterone, our experts think we’re on the cusp of a ‘sea change’ in prostate cancer care. But it needs to clear all the regulatory hurdles before it can be available on the NHS to UK men.
  • And still sticking with prostate cancer, our own scientists have discovered a potential route for treating cancers that are resistant to hormone therapy by targeting a protein called p23 (here’s our press release). Excitingly, drugs that block p23 are already in use for other diseases, so this research may be the first step in developing another new drug for prostate cancer.

  • In more good news, the Department of Health’s second cancer patient experience survey showed continued improvements across the NHS with 88 per cent of patients rating their care as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ and 94 per cent saying they’d been treated ‘with dignity’. Here’s the story in The Independent and here’s the original DH report. We’ll be blogging about this next week.
  • Australia’s high court ruled that the country’s plain packaging legislation is legal, despite challenges from the tobacco industry. This paves the way for others to follow suit and adds weight to our campaign. We covered the decision on our news feed but it made headlines in most UK media outlets.
  • Two new reports looked at smoking statistics. The first, from the UK, found that about one in every 20 NHS hospital beds is occupied by someone with a smoking-related illness. The second looked at global smoking rates, and showed that more than 850 million people worldwide use some form of tobacco product. If those figures don’t underline the need for urgent action, what will?
  • A widely-reported study confirmed that pregnant women can safely have chemotherapy for breast cancer.
  • An exciting, if complex, new study from Cancer Research UK scientists in Leicester has provided grounds to suggest people with melanoma should be tested for a particular mutation before being given the drug vemurafenib. Such patients are already tested for a mutation that predicts whether the drug is likely to work; our researchers suggest that a second mutation in the same gene, BRAF, may have the opposite effect, causing extra side effects and lowering the drug’s effectiveness.
  • Just how much sunshine is a good thing? To find out we’ve just launched a trial in Manchester to answer this question for people of all different skin types. Our press release was picked up by ITN, Sky News, BBC News, and Manchester Evening News.
  • NICE has approved a drug, denosumab, for cancer that has spread to the bones. This should help improve patients’ quality of life.
  • Cancer Research Technology – our drug development company – is forming a partnership with an Australian company to develop two new drugs for women with triple-negative breast cancer, which is harder to treat than other types. This is the first step towards setting up clinical trials for the drugs, which target a protein called FAK. Here’s our press release.
  • As we covered on our news feed, a large scale, in-depth analysis showed that exercise can bring quality-of-life benefits for people having cancer treatment, and afterwards. But, as we point out in the story, exercise isn’t for everyone.
  • Our Drug Development Office is launching a clinical trial in Oxford testing a new drug for people with advanced oesophageal or stomach cancers.
  • The UK government has been looking into how best to label foods in supermarkets. We’ve sent them our thoughts on the matter, which strongly back the idea of a ‘traffic light’ system. Read more in this blog post from our policy team.
  • US researchers have found evidence of a link between certain strains of the E. coli bacterium, and bowel cancer – in mice at least. This is plausible, as we already know that a different bug – H. pylori – is linked to stomach cancer. Nature’s news feed has this excellent write-up.
  • Meat eaters may have been downcast by Friday’s papers, which carried a story about a statistical link between pan-fried red meat and prostate cancer. Although intriguing, we don’t think this study is strong enough to draw any firm conclusions. And it means that the jury’s still out over whether there are any lifestyle or environmental causes of prostate cancer – it seems to be genes and old age that are most important. But that’s not to give red meat – however you cook it – a clean bill of health: unfortunately, it’s linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer – especially if it’s processed meat and eaten regularly.

And finally…

  • A few weeks ago, the media was full of headlines about how the impact of inactivity on global ill-health was ‘comparable to smoking’. This bold statement caught our eye, and we wondered whether the comparison was valid. It turns out it wasn’t – the way the analysis was carried out seriously exaggerated the stats, as our expert, Professor Max Parkin explains in this post. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to act – being more active has a whole range of benefits, and combats obesity (which is linked to a range of cancers). Despite the flaws in this particular story, policy makers need to encourage people to take up exercise and remain active for as long as possible.

See you next week,

Emma & Henry