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News digest – breast screening, new melanoma drugs, redheads, smokers, and more

by Oliver Childs | Analysis

3 November 2012

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Read our summary of this week’s news

  • The big news story this week was the review of the UK’s breast screening programme, which dominated the papers and airwaves for most of Tuesday. We produced a range of information to help women understand the results (all linked to from here), and several thoughtful opinion pieces appeared in the media over the rest of the week. This piece, in the Daily Telegraph, was perhaps the best, but there were several pieces in The Guardian (here, here and here). The BBC also had several pieces on the story, including one by Cancer Research UK researcher Professor Paul Pharoah, and the NHS Choices website carried this analysis.
  • Good news: the first new drug treatments for advanced melanoma for over a decade were recommended by NICE this week (here’s our coverage). The drugs can’t permanently cure, but they can give patient’s valuable extra months of life, so we warmly welcome this announcement.
  • On a related note, we spotted this overly negative piece in The Guardian that said newer cancer drugs are falling short of hopes and cost too much. It cites one of the newly approved melanoma drugs vemurafenib as one drug that has fallen short of expectations. True, vemurafenib isn’t a much-needed cure, but it’s still a major success for bench-to-bedside research, as others pointed have pointed out.
  • And – crucially – we think the recommendation of these new drugs shows it’s possible for newer targeted drugs to be priced appropriately by pharmaceutical companies so that the NHS can afford to prescribe them. This is an important topic, and our bloggers wrote more yesterday about the slow dawn of targeted treatments.

  • In other skin cancer news, US researchers this week found that the type of skin pigment predominantly found in red-haired, fair-skinned people may itself contribute to the development of melanoma. Here’s the Daily Mail’s take on the research, and here’s our own story. There’s no doubt that the majority of melanomas are caused by UV radiation from the sun – and protecting your skin in the sun is crucial – but this work suggests that there may be other paths to melanoma in red-haired, freckly people.
  • It was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sir Richard Doll this week, the influential scientist whose landmark research helped establish the link between smoking and lung cancer. And fittingly, a Cancer Research UK study about smokers also hit the headlines. It showed that two-thirds of all UK deaths of women smokers aged 50-70 are caused by smoking. But as the Metro and The Guardian both pointed out, the good news is that women who quit before the age of 30 dramatically cut their risk of tobacco-related death.
  • In other tobacco-related news, serious questions have been raised this week about the EU’s commitment to tobacco control measures, as new plans to further regulate tobacco have been stalled. Our news story outlines the recent events of a major resignation and break-ins at the offices of anti-tobacco campaigners. The Independent wrote about the “mysterious thefts” and Medical News Today asked “Do we have a European tobacco scandal?
  • The Independent also featured a worrying story about valuable genetic data on breast cancer allegedly being withheld in a case of “genetic profiteering” by a company. Our director of science funding is quoted in the article and explains that Cancer Research UK is committed to making our own research into cancer genes publicly available to help fuel valuable discoveries around the world.
  • The number of Scots under the age of 45 who are being diagnosed with mouth cancer has seen a big increase, dentists warned this week. Here’s the BBC’s story.
  • Cancer research in Manchester has been given a £12.8 million funding boost – read more in this University of Manchester press release.
  • We spotted this interesting Reuters article about the growing importance of software engineers in helping to make sense of the vast quantities of genetic data coming out of cancer research.

And finally

  • The Guardian Data blog published the number of people diagnosed with cancer and the number who die from the disease for each postcode district in Northern Ireland. But publishing these figures by themselves isn’t particularly useful. They don’t take into account crucial things like the average age of people living in a postcode area or smoking rates and therefore can’t tell us if people in some districts are at a higher risk of cancer than others. So all we can really see from the data is that some postcode areas in Northern Ireland have more people living in them than others. For a better comparison of local cancer statistics in your area (across the UK) take a look at the NCIN e-Atlas.