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News digest – Australian smoking rates, bowel cancer genes and more

by Henry Scowcroft | Analysis

19 July 2014

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  • To kick off, there’s been fantastic news from Down Under this week: thanks to the country’s continued efforts against tobacco – including introducing standard packaging – smoking rates have fallen to a record low. Read more in our news story, or on this page from the Australian Department of Health.
  • Our researchers in Belfast have discovered how faults in two genes – MET and MEK – are involved in drug resistance in advanced bowel cancer. The discovery could lead to new clinical trials of drugs targeting both genes at once, as this BBC news piece discusses. And here’s our press release.
  • New statistics revealed that, across Europe, survival rates for people with blood cancer (such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma) have improved over the last decade – but variations still exist from country to country. Read our news report for more details.
  • On a similar topic, we published an in-depth blog post looking at an important question: why the UK still lags behind the best in Europe in terms of cancer survival.
  • An expert on addiction and mental health weighs in on new research on smoking in this guest post.
  • We spotted a potentially exciting advance in targeted radiotherapy from French researchers – they’ve developed an experimental radiation technique that was able to kill tumour cells in mice while sparing healthy surrounding tissues. Read more on our news feed.
  • Fascinating and provocative research on ancient evolutionary relics of viruses embedded in the genome has begun to solve a long standing paradox – why larger animals, which are made of more cells, don’t have higher rates of cancer. The Independent has this take, and Science Magazine also had a nice article.
  • A small study from Newcastle researchers found that smokers said cigarettes in standardised packs taste “worse” and “all taste the same”, as covered in the Mail Online and the Guardian. NHS Choices took a deeper look at the study.
  • Our researchers in Manchester have made a discovery about how lung cancer cells work that could quickly lead to new clinical trials. The Mail Online has more, as does MedicalXPress.
  • Another team led by our Manchester scientists is looking into whether testing people’s genes could predict whether they’ll have more side effects from radiotherapy for prostate cancer.  Here’s Health Canal’s take.
  • US researchers are trying to work out whether using tamoxifen gel to treat breast cancer could lead to fewer side effects than tablets, according to News Medical.
  • Intriguing new research on how cancer cells grown in the lab or injected into mice respond to cannabinoids – chemicals found in cannabis – ended up being slightly over-sold by both the Mirror and the Independent. Many people want to believe that cannabis or its derivatives can cure cancer, but – as we point out in this blog post – the evidence just isn’t there at the moment, and this new research doesn’t prove it either.
  • There was an excellent BBC Radio 4 ‘File on 4’ documentary on some of the tricky – and heartbreaking – issues around clinical trials for childhood cancer. Here’s the iPlayer link.

And finally

  • Over the years we’ve seen newspapers bandy about lots of things that allegedly can or can’t cause cancer. But this one really had a whiff of something odd about it – can smelling your own farts really protect you against cancer? This headline popped up across the globe, proving it’s not just us Brits who have a predilection for a good snigger. Thankfully, Health News Review were on hand to look at how the story was (mis)reported, while the Guardian had this humorous look at the study.