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News digest – breast cancer blood test, eye cancer, Tasmanian Devils and more

by Henry Scowcroft | Analysis

16 March 2013

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A Tasmanian devil

The Tasmanian devil’s battle against cancer has been in the news this week

  • Our top story this week is a little left-field, and concerns a marsupial called the Tasmanian devil, which is threatened by from unique infectious cancer spread by biting. This week, researchers in Cambridge have made a big step forward in understanding how the cancer spreads – it cloaks itself from the immune system. The BBC has this interview with the lead researcher, and there’s more at National Geographic’s Phenomena blog. Fingers crossed they find a vaccine before the poor creature becomes extinct.

  • In other smoking-related news, new research shows that the UK’s children are shown millions of tobacco-related images on telly every week. Here’s our news story.
  • Our researchers in Oxford have shown that the risk of heart problems following radiotherapy for breast cancer are lower than previous estimates. Our press release was widely picked up – here’s the New York Times’s take
  • This is one of the most heartfelt and moving pieces we’ve ever published – a parent’s journey through her daughter’s experience of cancer.
  • Hormone replacement therapy increases breast cancer risk, but are recent drops in breast cancer rates linked to fewer women taking HRT? ‘We don’t know,’ is the conclusion of research reported in the Telegraph.
  • Relative risks also featured in this story, widely covered (here’s the BBC’s version). A “49 per cent increased risk of ovarian cancer” was found among women in a study who worked night shifts. But only a small number of women on the study actually worked nights, so we’re not convinced by the finding (although there may be a link between night shifts and breast cancer).
  • Sensors the size of an eyelash could in future be implanted into tumours to help improve the treatment of cancer patients,” said the Scotsman, reporting on a new £5.2m research project starting at Edinburgh University
  • Canadian researchers have found a new way that retinoblastoma – a rare childhood eye cancer – can develop. The results have implications for survivors, some of whom may not be at as high a risk of subsequent cancers as previously thought

And finally

  • Like a bad smell, the ‘dogs can sniff cancer’ story is back. Weoften get asked about the science behind these recurring stories, and it’s certainly interesting – cancers give off molecules that can be detected by highly-trained sniffer dogs. But it’s simply not practical to use dogs on a wide scale for cancer screening across the general population. Read this blog post for more information.