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News digest – important cancer conference, blind mole rats, pregnancy tests, and more

by Oliver Childs | Analysis

10 November 2012

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UK newspapers

It was a bumper week for cancer news

President Obama’s re-election notwithstanding, and from our perspective at least, the main media event this week was the National Cancer Research Institute’s annual conference.

Cancer doctors and researchers from around the world met in Liverpool to discuss progress and challenges in the fight against cancer.

We summarised the key talks and media coverage in our daily roundups from the conference – day one, day two, day three and day 4.

But beyond the conference walls, several other stories caught our eye:

  • On Tuesday, The Telegraph, Guardian and others ran stories about cancer overtaking heart disease as the number one cause of death in England and Wales. These figures are a stark reminder that despite great success in reducing the number of cancer deaths, far too many still die from this terrible disease. And with more and more people developing cancer each year, the burden of cancer in the UK is rapidly growing. The Guardian DataBlog used the data to produce this excellent graphic .
  • Also on Tuesday, the Department of Health released a report about radiotherapy services in England – something we’ve been campaigning about for a while. The report paints a mixed picture and despite recent progress, we still need to see vast improvement. Our Policy team wrote an in-depth blog post about what needs to happen next.
  • On Thursday we spotted this fascinating story about how a man ended up being diagnosed with a rare type of testicular cancer through jokingly using his girlfriend’s pregnancy test. This article describes the science behind this fortunate fluke diagnosis. Unfortunately, as this CNN blog explains, the evidence doesn’t support a population-wide urine test for this rare type of cancer, known as choriocarcinoma.
  • Marketwatch reported that a new breast cancer drug, called T-DM1 (which is, essentially, a Herceptin molecule stuck to a chemo drug) has been approved for sale in the US. This drug generated quite a bit of buzz at this year’s ASCO conference in the US. We’ll be keeping an eye on this drug’s progress towards these shores – clinical trials so far have been extremely promising.
  • Several news outlets covered a story about statins and cancer (here’s our take on it). This came from a large study that found lower cancer death rates among Danes who took statins to lower their cholesterol levels. Our expert, Professor Seckl, said the finding was “extremely interesting”, and merited further scrutiny. But its far too early to say whether statins actually could help treat cancer – randomised trials are ongoing.
  • The Chancellor, George Osborne, outlined his priorities for science in at a speech at the Royal Society. Although he didn’t focus on the life sciences, he did mention his desire for the UK to be a world leader in the use of genetic data through linking ‘dry computer science and wet life sciences’. He also paid tribute to the vital importance of the Francis Crick Institute (Cancer Research UK is one of its partners), which will be a centre of excellence for medical research. The Government’s ‘Life Sciences Strategy‘ – which launched last year – is about to reach its first anniversary. We’re expecting updates on progress, and we will be working hard to keep medical research high on the political agenda. Watch this space….
  • We were pleased to find out on Friday that we won an award for our ‘The Answer is Plain’ campaign, which lobbied the Government to put cigarettes in plain, standardised packaging. This crucial piece of legislation could help protect millions of children from smoking. Read more here.

And finally…

  • A few years ago, we wrote about how scientists were unravelling the super-powers of a strange rodent called the naked mole rat, which never gets cancer. Its cousin, the blind mole rat, also shares these abilities – as you’d expect from two closely evolutionarily-related organisms. But a twist in this tale emerged this week. While the blind mole rat and the naked mole rat are indeed both cancer-proof, the molecular mechanisms they use are completely different. This, say the researchers involved, was a “complete surprise”. Nature News has the story here.