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News digest – ASCO conference, immunotherapy, blind mole rat genome and more

by Nick Peel | Analysis

7 June 2014

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The world’s biggest annual cancer conference – run by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) – took place this week and was widely covered in the media. So we kick off this week’s digest with a rundown of these headlines, most of which focused on a new class of immunotherapies, and some of which, inevitably, contain a few premature mentions of ‘cures’.

  • But before we do, here’s some context – a blog post we wrote looking at the science behind these new drugs.
  • On Sunday, the Mirror and the Mail Online covered the results from a trial using these drugs to treat bladder cancer.
  • And then on Tuesday, there was wide coverage of some exciting early trial results looking at their use in melanoma. Here’s the BBC’s take, here’s the story in the Mirror, and here’s the Daily Star asking if it meant cancer was now ‘cured’ (clue: it isn’t).
  • The Telegraph covered promises by drugs company AstraZeneca – makers of one of the new drugs – to make them available as quickly as possible.
  • The American Cancer Society’s Dr Len Lichtenfeld wrote several great articles about the conference, the first of which was also about these new immunotherapy drugs, known as ‘checkpoint blockers’.
  • Other treatments also got a share of the limelight – here’s Reuters’ take on some more complex immunotherapies called ‘chimeric antigen receptors’.
  • Dr Len blogged about how a new trial of a chemo drug – docetaxel – had shown that using this drug earlier could extend life by 17 months among men with advanced prostate cancer – an extremely encouraging result.
  • And Len also wrote this insightful post summarising the whole conference – it’s this week’s ‘must read’ article.
  • Moving away from the conference, our latest statistics show that rates of anal cancer have quadrupled since the mid-70s – unfortunately this dramatic rise never made the newspapers. Read our blog post for more on the stats and why this story might have been overlooked.
  • A group of genes called the ‘APOBEC family’, which normally protect the body from infections by attacking the DNA of viruses, may misfire following infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) and trigger potentially cancer causing genetic faults. We covered this on our news feed and The Guardian had this blog post on the research.
  • New research from our scientists in Manchester revealed how cancer cells found in a lung cancer patient’s blood sample could help predict and monitor their response to treatment. Our news story has more.
  • Researchers in London found that smokers who carry variations in the BRCA2 gene – which has long been linked with breast and ovarian cancer – have double the overall risk of lung cancer. The BBC covered this, NHS Choices took an in depth look at the research and we had this article on our news feed.
  • This thought-provoking article looks at how cancer charities represent older people.
  • The new chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, highlighted how he thinks the service must be prepared to adopt a more ‘personalised’ approach to treatment, according to this article from The Guardian.
  • Looking at prostate cancer awareness in at-risk groups of men, the Express rather tactlessly referred to some men as “ticking time-bombs” as a survey found they were less aware of the risks and less likely to see their GP about possible signs and symptoms.
  • This article from The Guardian looks at the legal ins and outs of using an e-cigarette in the office.
  • Following the recent coverage of experimental research using a modified form of measles as a potential treatment for myeloma (which we blogged about), the Washington Post had this article on using viruses to treat cancer.
  • The Mail Online covered encouraging early results from a clinical trial testing a drug called ibrutinib in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL).
  • And the BBC covered the story of a US teenager who’s started work on a computer programme that could help spot breast cancer early.
  • Continuing our partnership with The Guardian, this video and article tell the story of lung cancer survivor, Jim.
  • US research, covered by the Telegraph, found that women who had five or more blistering sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 were more likely to develop melanoma skin cancer in later life than those who suffered no burns. NHS Choices published this in-depth explainer, which reinforces the need to take precautions when enjoying the sun.

And finally

  • It may not win first place in any beauty contests, but the cancer-resistant blind mole rat (not to be mistaken for the naked mole rat) has become the latest animal to have each letter of its DNA code read, or ‘sequenced’. This information could provide important clues to why a creature that spends its entire life underground remains cancer-free.