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  • Health & Medicine

News digest – Google draws some pictures, misleading smartwatch claims, obesity and more

by Nick Peel | Analysis

21 March 2015

1 comment 1 comment

  • Our new figures show that obese women have around a 40 per cent greater risk of developing a weight-related cancer in their lifetime than women of a healthy weight. The Daily Mail covered this, here’s our press release and our infographic below has a breakdown of the figures.


  • US scientists found that a person’s genetic make-up might determine whether they could benefit from taking aspirin to prevent bowel cancer. Here’s a blog post about the possible pros and cons of aspirin.
  • Google filed a patent application for a wrist-worn device (it doesn’t actually exist yet) that could target and kill cancer cells in the blood. BuzzFeed News and the Daily Telegraph covered this, which sounds similar to their announcement about a ‘cancer nano-detector’ last autumn. But there’s been no published research on any of these ideas, so it’s clearly still at the drawing-board stage.
  • Tobacco news kept coming this week, following last week’s big vote on standardised tobacco packaging. At the World Conference on Tobacco in Abu Dhabi, Australian experts presented the latest data showing that standard packs had successfully reduced the appeal of cigarettes to teenagers and promoted smokers to think about quitting. The Guardian has more on this.
  • A £2.7 million ($4 million) global fund was announced that will help developing countries tackle the tobacco industry over claims made around tobacco control measures. The BBC has more.
  • Two articles from The Conversation looked at the tobacco industry, their tactics and the illegal tobacco trade.
  • The Guardian also followed the standard packs vote with a piece on how tobacco industry money could have potentially influenced the vote.

Number of the week:


The amount of profit, in US dollars, that the tobacco industry is estimated to make for each person who dies of a smoking-related illness (via Reuters).

  • And to coincide with the publication of a new edition of The Tobacco Atlas, the American Cancer Society published a fascinating interview with its author and editor, Dr Jeffrey Drope.
  • “Can fish oils help fight prostate cancer?” Asks the Mail Online. Not based on this very early stage study, which tested chemicals like those found in fish oils on cells grown in a lab.
  • UK scientists found that women who received a text message reminding them about their breast cancer screening appointment were 20 per cent more likely to attend than those who were not texted. Here’s the press release for more info, and you can read more about breast screening – including the risks and benefits – on our website.
  • PMLiVE looked at two new reports on how the National Institute for Health and Care Excellent (NICE) approves drugs. We’ve blogged before about the approval system.
  • Several news sites covered a story about the need to get a ‘second opinion’ on a breast cancer diagnosis. But the story was drawn from US data, and applies to the (more decentralised) US healthcare system. The quality assurance systems and regular audits in place in across the UK NHS mean the situation here is very different, and almost certainly much more robust.
  • An online computer programme that helps to predict the most suitable treatment for breast cancer could be underestimating the number of women under 40 who will die from the disease by 25 per cent. This younger age group represents less than five per cent of all breast cancer diagnoses, and the findings will help improve the accuracy of the programme for these women.
  • New Scientist explored early stage US research looking at how a drug used for certain heart conditions – called atrial natriuretic peptide – could be used to help stop cancer cells from spreading to other parts of the body.
  • The BBC covered a new surgery technique for removing growths in the bowel – called polyps – that can become cancerous.
  • In a post on the BioMed Central network – co-published here – we looked at new research showing that exposure to chemicals – called dioxins – through diet doesn’t raise the risk of breast cancer.
  • We loved this: a rapping scientist ‘laying the diss on cancer’, reported in CNET. Watch him here.
  • Cosmos covered research on an ingenious nanoparticle-based ‘reverse Trojan-horse’ that can smuggle drugs into cancer cells. OK, in mice in the lab but, still – clever.
  • The Guardian looked into concerns about the privatisation of cancer services in Staffordshire.
  • Several newspapers covered a story about the number of men in the UK – 30,000 – living with advanced prostate cancer. The Times had a good take; if you don’t have a subscription, here’s Yahoo News’s version.
  • Research into light, the body’s internal clock (called circadian rhythms) and cancer is an ongoing and interesting area. But the study this article from the Mail Online covers is a review of the available evidence, so doesn’t add anything new to the picture. At the minute research can’t offer any definite conclusions, which is why we need more – but until then read articles like these with a critical eye. Or take a look at this in-depth article from NHS Choices.

And finally

  • The New York Times published a misleading, and speculative, article questioning the safety of wearable technology (such as smartwatches), that selectively referenced bits of research on mobile phones and brain tumours. This response on The Verge was one of many articles that set the record straight, and for our most recent summary of the evidence on mobile phones and brain tumours read this blog post.




  • Abdominal Pain
    29 March 2015

    Wherever the words “prevent bowel cancer” appear, it should be reiterated that the surest way to “prevent bowel cancer” is to remove pre-cancerous growths during a colonoscopy. Lest someone miss the message.


  • Abdominal Pain
    29 March 2015

    Wherever the words “prevent bowel cancer” appear, it should be reiterated that the surest way to “prevent bowel cancer” is to remove pre-cancerous growths during a colonoscopy. Lest someone miss the message.