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News digest – double dose of DNA, cancers of ‘unknown origin’, ancient dog tumour and more

by Nick Peel | Analysis

24 January 2014

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  • Spotting when bowel cancer cells contain a double dose of DNA could predict patient survival and help doctors plan treatment, according to scientists at our London Research Institute. The New Scientist has more detail.
  • Following our initial concerns that it was lagging behind, Northern Ireland is set to follow the rest of the UK in legislation on the introduction of plain, standardised packaging for cigarettes. The BBC has more info.
  • Cancers with an undefined origin in the body – known as ‘cancers of unknown primary’ – are twice as likely to be diagnosed in A&E than cancers where the initial tumour site is known. See our news story for more details.
  • Interesting early research has identified a possible ‘genetic signature’ for pancreatic cancer in blood. The Huffington Post covered this but it’s a long way off being a test that could help diagnose patients.
  • A report looking at the NHS’ use of drugs approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) revealed some worrying statistics for a handful of treatments. The Telegraph and the Mail Online covered the findings, which included two kidney cancer drugs that were being used less than expected. More in-depth research will be needed to pinpoint the cause of these differences in use.
  • New research provided further evidence that taking Vitamin D supplements is unlikely to protect against cancer in most people. The BBC covered this, emphasising that even with continued research this conclusion is unlikely to change.
  • Several media outlets covered a proposed link between low levels of the hormone melatonin caused by lack of sleep and advanced prostate cancer. This is very early research and direct links between melatonin and prostate cancer were not tested in this study.

And finally

  • A fascinating bit of research has characterised the world’s oldest-known living cancer. The 11,000 year old tumour affects the genitals of dogs and can be transferred between animals during mating. There are no human cancers than can be transferred in this way, but this research could provide important clues about how this canine cancer has evolved to reach such a ripe old age. See coverage from the BBC and New Scientist for more info.