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News digest – lifetime cancer risk now 1 in 2, naked mole rat, another ‘simple blood test’ and more

by Nick Peel | Analysis

7 February 2015

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This week featured naked mole rat news
  • Big news: based on some new calculations from our scientists, the latest figures show that 1 in 2 people will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives (previously the figure was more than 1 in 3). Our announcement on World Cancer Day attracted a huge amount of media attention, we blogged about why these rates are increasing and the animation below explores the numbers in more detail.

  • Our 1 in 2 story highlighted the fact that 40 per cent of cancers could be avoided by healthier lifestyles. And Britons are increasingly aware of this, according to a survey from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) – they just don’t seem to be translating their knowledge into action. Here’s a WCRF blog post that digs a bit deeper.
  • Early diagnosis is important too: The Mail Online featured 10 ‘red flag’ symptoms that could be a sign of cancer.
  • Also on World Cancer Day – boosting funding for global cancer services could save millions of lives each year, according to a global cancer organisation.
  • Back in the labs, US scientists identified a molecule inside cells that, if targeted with drugs, could help slow the growth of tumour cells carrying certain genetic faults.
  • New early stage research on the cancer-resistant naked mole rat revealed that the rodent’s cells may be producing a ‘hybrid’ protein that could help protect them from tumours. The Mail Online explores (and we’ve blogged about this weird little rodent before).
  • New clinical research found that the prostate cancer drug abirateronedeveloped with help from our researchers – has benefits when given before chemo. Here’s the BBC report for more details.
  • Earlier in the week, so-called ‘three-parent babies’ (a rather misleading phrase) were in the news because MPs were voting on whether to introduce an alternative method of IVF that could help prevent a hereditary disease – more context here (and they voted ‘yes’). But some media outlets ran claims that these children would have a ‘greater risk of cancer.’ This is highly speculative because the technique hasn’t yet been routinely used.
  • The minister for life sciences, George Freeman MP, unveiled £13.7 million of funding for ‘stratified medicine’ research through the Medical Research Council.
  • The Government’s NHS reforms came under scrutiny in a new report from The King’s Fund, a healthcare think tank. The BBC had this to say, and here’s a blog post from The King’s Fund themselves.
  • Another ‘simple blood test’ for cancer? The BBC thinks so, this time reporting on a new bowel cancer test. It sounds like it’s a long way off to us, and it was hard to find full details of the research.
  • European scientists found that overweight children may be at higher risk of oesophageal cancer when they grow up than their slimmer friends. Here’s the press release for more info.
  • Scientists from the Institute of Cancer Research in London discovered two genetic variants linked with a particular type of breast cancer. The Telegraph covered this (with a bit of added hype).
  • Our scientists in Cambridge are teaming up with astronomers and developing new software that could help spot cancer cells in biopsy samples. The Huffington Post has more on this, and we’ve blogged about the project before.
  • A trial of two smoke-free zones in Bristol was announced this week. The BBC has more.
  • Some overblown headlines emerged about the potential harms of e-cigarettes. But the study in question only found that a small number of mice exposed to e-cigarette vapour were more susceptible to infections, making it questionable how far the response to a machine-generated dose of vapour in mice could be applied to human e-cigarette use – as the NHS Choices website points out.
  • The Longitude Prize blog had this personal story of the important role antibiotics play in tackling infections during cancer treatment.
  • The American Cancer Society’s Dr Len Lichtenfeld wrote this excellent blog post about the future of ‘personalised’ cancer treatment.

And finally

  • Some people are never satisfied. The ‘1 in 2 people will get cancer’ story – driven by a rigorous, peer-reviewed statistical analysis by our researchers – was big news this week, but not everyone wanted to believe the stats. For example, here’s the BBC’s Jeremy Vine struggling to comprehend things, even in the face of some heroic explanation from our spokesperson (skip to 8 minutes 40 seconds in). And if, like Jeremy, you want to see some data to back up our calculations, this blog post about preventable cancers and this one about ‘1 in 2’ are a must read. You can even read the Open Access research paper, or access our prevention data here.