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News digest – friendly nudges, packs go plain Down Under, ‘chemo brain’ and more

by Oliver Childs | Analysis

1 December 2012

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  • More than a third of people say they visited the GP after talking to a friend or relative about a change to their body that was playing on their mind, according to a new survey from Cancer Research UK. Our press release has more detail about the power of such ‘friendly nudges’, here is the Express’ take, and here’s a video to promote the idea that we made with Tesco.

  • A second story we published on Friday showed that nearly two thirds of people in the UK back moves to get rid of colourful and slickly designed tobacco packaging. The survey comes as Australia takes an historic step today and becomes the first country in the world to put all tobacco products in standardised packs. Our Chief Executive congratulated the Australian Government for their “tremendous leadership in fighting the tobacco industry”.
  • And if anyone needed a reminder of the dangers of smoking, apparently the habit can “rot” the brain by damaging memory, learning and reasoning, according to a BBC article this week.
  • A key cause of drug resistance in cancer cells was identified this week by European and US researchers. As we say in our news article, the research suggests that a gene called MED12 becomes deactivated in a wide variety of different drug-resistant cancer types.
  • Intriguing but preliminary US research showed this week that chemotherapy can trigger measurable physical changes in brain function linked with memory loss and lapses in concentration. Here’s our news story. Doctors and patients use the term ‘chemo brain’ to describe the mild cognitive impairment sometimes experienced by patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer treatment, and this study seems to show some tentative physical evidence of the phenomenon.
  • Author Bill Bryson spoke this week about the potential for “game-changing medical advances” at the Cancer Research UK-supported Francis Crick Institute, which will be the largest biomedical research laboratory in Europe when it opens in 2015. It was a great talk, and we’ll be writing about it onext week. In the meantime, here’s the press release about the event.
  • This, from the Chicago Tribune was interesting – a report of US research on how women being treated for breast cancer felt about being involved in choices about their treatment. The findings – that a proportion of women felt overburdened by decision-making, should serve as a warning that, as treatments get more complex, doctors need to make sure that all patients are fully informed about what’s happening.
  • We spotted this interesting article in Science about work to develop a blood test that can use DNA shed from tumours into the bloodstream to diagnose and monitor cancer (something our researchers are also working on). Cancer Research UK scientist Carlos Caldas is quoted in the article, saying that this is an “exploding field” in cancer research, though it is important to say that this work is still at the proof-of-concept stage.
  • The government is officially warning cancer patients and their families against substandard clinics – often abroad – that offer unproven treatments. Read more in this Guardian article.
  • On Thursday morning, there was an excellent documentary on BBC Radio 4 about the history of X-ray crystallography – a technique researchers used to work out the shape of molecules. It’s 45 minutes long, and well worth a listen. Crystallography is one of the most important techniques in cancer research, as it allows us to understand how proteins and other molecules work, how they can go wrong, and how we can design drugs to combat this.

And finally

  • Reports emerged this week (like this one in the Telegraph) suggesting that fizzy drinks might be linked to prostate cancer. We think this is unhelpful – it was a very shaky conclusion to draw from the study (which looked at links between carbohydrates in general, and cancer) and we agree with Prostate Cancer UK’s comment in the story that “it is highly unlikely that any single food source will lead to an increased chance of developing the disease.”