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News digest – tobacco industry ‘nonsense’, progress in ovarian cancer, emergency cancer care, and more

by Oliver Childs | Analysis

24 November 2012

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Tabloids on a news stand

It’s time for our weekly news digest

  • The tobacco industry’s claims that plain packaging of cigarettes will increase smuggling are “nonsense”, according to an expert report we commissioned (here’s our press release). We outlined the report’s key points in this blog post.
  • Sticking with tobacco smuggling, an international treaty agreed this week will help nations get a firmer control of the issue. And another crucial agreement should help to reduce the number of people dying prematurely as a result of non-infectious diseases such as heart disease, cancer and strokes. Read more in our news story.
    • Death rates from ovarian cancer have fallen by 20 per cent over the last decade, according to data released on Tuesday. This drop is likely due to many things, but could reflect improvements in detecting and treating the disease. Here’s the press release, and here’s the BBC’s take.

  • More must be done to improve emergency care for people with cancer, according to a new joint report from The Royal College of Physicians and The Royal College of Radiologists published on Wednesday. We covered the report on our news feed, and again the BBC has an interesting feature on it.
  • Despite the recent Marmot Review of breast screening, the controversy rumbles on – or does it? In our opinion, the research behind Wednesday’s headlines is far from being sufficient to ‘reignite the debate’ (as Reuters put it). The study, involving US women (who generally go for more screening, from an earlier age, than in this country), was what’s known as an ‘observational’ study. This is exactly the sort of evidence that the Marmot Review decided wasn’t robust enough to accurately measure the benefits and disadvantages of screening. Observational studies – as opposed to randomised trials – rely on subjective assumptions, which can impact enormously on their conclusions. One of the authors wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times; here’s our page on breast screening.
  • Poor care for lung cancer patients is “hindering” their survival, an expert group said this week. Read more on the BBC, and here’s the London Evening Standard’s take on the report.
  • Alarming reports of a chemo drug shortage in Germany appeared in the Daily Mail. But our sources at the Department of Health have confirmed that there are several suppliers of the drug (fluorouracil) to the UK, and no current issues with any of them.
  • We also spotted this story in the Daily Mail, about a woman with seemingly incurable pancreatic cancer, who emailed her local tissue bank to offer her tumour for research. But her email was forwarded to a specialist pancreatic surgeon, who offered to operate with the latest techniques. She’s now clear of cancer. As well as incredible good fortune, this story highlights the need for proper integrated specialist care – as remarked in the article, “Patients… should not have to rely on their own initiative to get referred to expert teams”

And finally

  • We were concerned by unnecessarily worrying – and unjustified – headlines this week claiming that a chemical ‘toxic soup’ in certain jobs is linked to breast cancer. The BBC, Mail Online and Huffington Post all covered the Canadian research, but the study that triggered these stories had significant limitations. Our experts discussed the study and other evidence on occupation and cancer in this blog post.