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News digest – bowel screening, cancer conspiracies, lung cancer improvements, and more

by Oliver Childs | Analysis

8 December 2012

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man reading newspaper

It’s time for our round-up of the week’s headlines

  • It’s childhood cancer awareness month, so we thought we’d lead with this story in medwireNews about two new genes that US researchers have linked to neuroblastoma. The finding shows that children whose tumours contain faults in one of two genes have a worse prognosis.
  • If you only read one thing in this week’s digest, this Guardian article should be it – “Why I’m feeling so crabby about cancer conspiracy theories“. It’s excellent and makes a very important point (here’s our take from a few months ago).
  • Using an internal camera called a flexi-scope to screen for signs of bowel cancer can greatly reduce deaths from the disease, according to a review published this week. The UK government has committed to introduce the technique by 2016, after a landmark UK trial funded by Cancer Research UK showed it could reduce deaths by more than 40 per cent. This latest study confirms once again that it saves lives – the sooner it’s available on the NHS, the better. Here’s our news story.

  • And in other bowel screening news, a study this week found that Britons want a recommendation from the NHS on whether to attend bowel cancer screening, along with all the information on benefits and risks. The study’s importance goes beyond the information provided by the NHS – it will also help cancer charities like Cancer Research UK to develop the information we offer to the public about screening. MedicalXpress covered the research.
  • We also spotted several headlines this week about a supposed “revolutionary breath test” for diagnosing bowel cancer. While the research is certainly interesting, it’s still only at an early stage, so we can’t say for sure whether it will lead to a clinically useful test.
  • The cancer death rate in the UK has dropped for both men and women, despite a rise in the rate of people diagnosed with the disease. Here’s our news story, and here’s the BBC’s take.
  • We were concerned to see an article in the Daily Express on Friday asking “Do cancer alternatives really work?” This piece contains factual and scientific inaccuracies, as well as misleading information that could potentially cause harm to people with cancer. Read more about what we think here.
  • A Cancer Research UK study presented at a scientific conference this week confirmed that fewer, bigger doses of radiotherapy can benefit breast cancer patients. This is important, as fewer doses could mean fewer trips to hospital, as well as cost savings for the health service. Here’s our press release.
  • In more good news for breast cancer, our study showed that 10 years of the drug tamoxifen treatment can approximately halve the number of deaths from the most common form of breast cancer. Here’s our press release, and the BBC had a good article about the work.
  • Lung cancer care in the UK is improving, according to a major NHS audit published on Wednesday. Read our news story for more information.
  • It’s US focussed article, but we thought this Bloomberg piece about the dangers of sunbeds and need for legislation to help protect young people from the deadly risk of melanoma was very interesting. Cancer Research UK’s Professor Tim Bishop is quoted.
  • Third Sector magazine published a ‘week in the life’ of Cancer Research UK-funded drug developer, Professor Caroline Springer.
  • This fascinating BBC article is a must read. It talks about the common misconception that cancer tends to be a disease of more wealthy countries. The developing world is often associated with diseases like HIV, TB and malaria, but millions also die from cancer.
  • A new targeted lung cancer drug went on sale in this country on Monday. Crizotinib, which is suitable for about one in 20 patients, is being scrutinised by NICE as we speak.
  • Monday’s Newsnight on BBC2 had a section on a new cancer Bill being put before the House of Lords. Cancer Research UK’s Professor James Brenton was interviewed – you can watch it on iPlayer, from 22 minutes in.
  • A new report published on Tuesday calculated that cancer patients contribute £16bn to the UK economy, but with better care and support this total could double by 2030.The Guardian Data Blog had a helpful analysis.
  • The American Society of Clinical Oncology released its annual report on the top cancer advances of the year. At around 100 pages, it’s the most comprehensive summary of this year’s global achievements in different types of cancer. Download it here.
  • We missed it last week, but thought this New Statesman article by Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert was worth highlighting. Dr Huppert, who has a PhD in Biological Chemistry, talks about the importance of scientific research to the nation’s economic growth and wellbeing. Much of what he says chimes with what we outlined in a report we published  last year ‘Building the Ideal Environment for Medical Research’. The politically inclined might also be interested in this guest post from David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, which we published earlier this year.
  • The UK could “miss the boat” when it comes to the genomics revolution in medicine, according to the Guardian.
  • We published some great guest blog posts this week – here’s bowel surgeon Dion Morton talking about improvements in care, here’s Bill Bryson talking about the amazingness of science, and here’s Trading Standards’ Richard Ferry talking about why plain tobacco packs won’t lead to more smuggling.

And finally

  • Sorry Mail Online, but you’ve done it again. This headline about red wine ‘cutting bowel cancer risk’ is misleading. The research looked at the effects of a chemical in grapes called resveratrol, which has some promising anti-cancer properties. But as we’ve said before, people shouldn’t drink wine in an attempt to get any health benefits resveratrol may offer. Alcohol causes around 12,500 cases of cancer a year in the UK. The best way to cut the risk of cancer through alcohol is to drink less.