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News digest – prostate cancer drug resistance, the ‘Angelina Jolie effect’, chokeberries and more

by Nick Peel | Analysis

20 September 2014

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  • A European research team, including some of our own scientists from London, found that analysing DNA from regular blood samples could show when a man’s prostate cancer is becoming resistant to treatment. Some of the wider media coverage was a little misleading as researchers haven’t developed a ‘simple blood test’ or shown that treatment is making the disease worse.
  • In more prostate cancer news, researchers (again including some of our own), pinpointed 23 new genetic variants that are more common among men with the disease – bringing the total of such variants to 100. Read coverage in the Telegraph for more details.
  • Our scientists in Oxford discovered the way in which a common gene fault may raise the risk of 26 different types of cancer. Here’s our press release for more info.
  • New research on the proposed ‘Angelina Jolie effect’ found that UK GPs referred twice as many women to specialist clinics based on their family history, following the actress’s double mastectomy to prevent the disease – an increase that appears to be sustained. The BBC and the Independent have more on this, and BioMed Central published this blog post on the research.
  • An international clinical trial added more evidence to the idea that chest radiotherapy can benefit people with an aggressive form of lung cancer.
  • The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence said ‘yes’ to a drug called dabrafenib (aka Tafinlar), which targets a precise gene fault (which was discovered with help from Cancer Research UK researchers) in people with advanced melanoma. The BBC and the Guardian have more details.
  • The potential for detecting human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA in urine samples to aid cervical cancer screening appeared in several news stories this week following a European study. But as this in-depth NHS Choices article points out, there were some important limitations to the study so much more research will be needed before we’ll know whether any resulting ‘urine test’ will be suitable for detecting HPV in women.
  • Continuing the HPV theme, we published this blog post about the history of the virus and its links with cancer.
  • The Society for General Microbiology’s blog discussed research tackling the problem of microbes growing on prosthetic voice boxes in people following surgery for laryngeal cancer.
  • This article from the Wall Street Journal explores the challenges around screening and potential ‘overdiagnosis’ of certain types of cancer (albeit with a slightly US slant).
  • A new immunotherapy for a form of brain cancer has become the first in the UK to be designated a ‘Promising Innovative Medicine’ as part of a scheme to speed up access to experimental new treatments. This article from Wired has more detail.
  • This article from Market Watch looks at the difficulties in designing clinical trials.
  • The Mail Online covered a US study on male baldness and prostate cancer risk, but the findings were a little thin on top. The study had some serious flaws – like asking men to remember how bald they were 40 years ago – so we’re not too convinced by this one.
  • The apparent treatment-boosting effects of the wild chokeberry appeared this week as a very early stage lab study found that combining a berry extract with chemotherapy was more effective at killing pancreatic cancer cells growing in a dish. So it’s far too soon to say that “adding berries to conventional therapy” could make it more effective in people. The BBC does a better job of balancing these caveats, and NHS choices offered this in-depth look at the study.

And finally

  • Can the cane toad produce a cancer cure? The Mail Online asks. Not based on this research, which has so far only shown that the venom produced by the toad can kill cancer cells in a lab. This is a long way from showing that this could be an effective treatment in people.