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News digest – cancer risk, prostate genes, melanoma, immune system faults and more

by Henry Scowcroft | Analysis

22 December 2012

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UK newspapers

It’s our final news digest of 2012

Thankfully (at least as we write this) the world hasn’t ended, so we’re able to welcome you to our final news digest of 2012.

  • We start with our big story this week: despite improved survival, boys born in 2027 will have a 50 per cent chance of developing cancer at some point in their lives – up from 44 per cent among men today. This was covered widely in the press and on TV (here’s the BBC’s take), while we discussed the underlying reasons in this blog post. We released the stats to highlight our new TV advert, which you can watch below:

  • Here’s a fantastic example of research taking things forward. Researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research discovered rare genetic flaws in the immune system – rather than the cancer itself – that are involved in breast and ovarian cancer. Here’s our coverage of this completely new concept.
  • Researchers at our Cambridge Research Institute made an intriguing step forward in understanding advanced prostate cancer. Using tissue from patients, rather than lab-grown prostate cancer ‘cell lines’, they found a completely new gene network driving the disease. Here’s our press release, and you can read about the study in this in-depth blog post (which also features a nifty little video).
  • Drug resistance is a big problem in cancer treatment, particularly the new-generation of ‘targeted’ melanoma therapies. But as we reported on Thursday, researchers in Manchester think they’ve found how resistance to experimental drugs called MEK inhibitors can develop – and this is before the drugs have even been through clinical trials.
  • Speaking of targeted therapies, the Daily Mail had this excellent, balanced feature about a woman with lung cancer who’s benefiting from a new drug called crizotinib. In case you missed it, here’s our comment piece on the promise and challenges of this new era of cancer treatment.  
  • There’s been a lot in the news about radiotherapy and its side effects recently. We’ve been campaigning for better access to newer, better-targeted forms of this important cancer treatment. So we were delighted to hear this week that the Government has boosted its new ‘Radiotherapy Innovation Fund’, from £15m to £23m. This is a fantastic early Christmas present for everyone who helped us with our Voice for Radiotherapy campaign.
  • The latest NHS Bowel Cancer Audit was published on Monday. The good news: things are continuing to improve. The bad news: far too many people are being diagnosed as an emergency case. Here’s our news story.
  • Researchers at our Beatson Institute in Glasgow discovered that cancer cells that contain a faulty protein called p53 have difficulty growing without an essential amino acid called serine (here’s our press release). P53 – discovered by our scientists in the 1970s – is one of the most important proteins in cancer, but exploiting it has so far eluded researchers. We hope this new discovery will begin to change that.
  • GPs have a skin cancer ‘blackspot’ and are failing to spot patients with melanoma, according a story in the Daily Telegraph. We felt that ‘blind spot’ may have made a better headline, although we agree that earlier diagnosis can make a huge difference in this disease.
  • A tricky one this – a new study of healthcare data found that people whose parents get cancer at an old age are more likely than previously suspected to get cancer themselves. Should we be worried? No. The size of the effect is small and the study didn’t take a variety of factors into account, as we point out in our comment at the end of this Telegraph article.
  • Early lab research is showing promise in mice, according to the BBC, who report that a new form of ‘Trojan Horse’ immunotherapy can ‘completely eliminate the disease’ in laboratory animals.
  • The EU is planning tougher warnings on cigarette packs according to the BBC, while the Guardian highlights the proposals to ban menthol cigarettes and other flavoured varieties. This is good to hear, although for us the priority is to put tobacco products in plan, standardised packaging. If you haven’t already done so, sign our petition.
  • Macmillan’s high profile story on Thursday warned of ‘ageism’ in the NHS, and that older cancer patients may be missing out on treatments that could help them. Here’s the BBC’s coverage.
  • We spotted this US perspective on so-called ‘Big Data’ in healthcare, by the CEO of a healthcare data company whose father has prostate cancer.
  • The Independent had this excellent interview with Professor Sir Paul Nurse, our Nobel Prize-winning former CEO who’s heading up the new Crick Institute in London.
  • Could a joint supplement called glucosamine help people live longer? The evidence from this study, reported in the Telegraph, suggests it could, but we’re sceptical – the study is far from conclusive

And finally…

  • It’s a headline-writer’s dream, but something of a nightmare for balanced cancer reporting. US researchers discovered that applying physical pressure to breast cancer cells grown in the lab could encourage them to ‘revert’ and become less cancer-like. And so, with tedious and – in many cases slightly chauvinistic – predictability, began a deluge of stories reporting that ‘squeezing breasts could prevent cancer’. No it can’t, and as office party season winds to a close, we’d like to issue a semi-serious warning. Ladies, if your drunken colleague offers to help alter your cancer risk, point him to this, more balanced take, and then politely move away.

So, that’s it for 2012 – a fantastic year for us here at CRUK and for progress against cancer. In case you missed it, here’s our interactive review of the year’s progress. Thanks to all of you for your support and comments – see you in 2013.

Henry and Olly