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News digest – GPs, cancer survival, herpes virus treatment, smoking statistics… and some terrible puns

by Misha Gajewski | Analysis

30 May 2015

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  • News about a herpes-based drug went viral after a re-engineered virus was shown in trials to nudge the immune system into attacking and killing skin cancer cells. But the study didn’t compare the new treatment against a standard therapy, so while scientifically exciting, it’s unclear how this treatment would be used alongside newer immunotherapies. Also, some papers were reporting that this ‘virotherapy’ would be ‘available within a year’ but we felt this was over optimistic. We looked at the study in detail in this blog post.
  • Our researchers found that the lower cancer survival in the UK – compared to countries with similar health care systems – was linked to delays in GPs referring patients for tests. BBC reported this as did the Daily Mail, the Guardian and many others. Here’s our in-depth analysis.
  • Italian researchers suggested that a Mediterranean-style diet might halve a woman’s risk of womb cancer. The Guardian covered this, as did the Daily Mail and Mirror. But, as we said in the press release, there’s still some way to go to confirm this idea.
  • UK researchers uncovered a possible way that breast cancer can spread to the bones, which suggests the process can be blocked. BBC covered this as did many national papers.
  • New research showed that, because of England’s smoking ban, 11,000 fewer children now make trips to the hospital each year. We talked about this as did the BBC and the Guardian among others.
  • But smoking still thrusts over half a million children into poverty. According to new research, more than half of the 2.3 million children in the UK who live in poverty have a parent who smokes and the addiction places an extra financial burden on the family. The Independent and the Daily Mail have more on this story.
  • Cancer climbed to second place on the list of the world’s biggest killer diseases, affecting nearly 15 million each year and killing more than 8 million. Heart disease still has the top spot. The Week and the Daily Mail have more on this.
  • UK researchers are beginning to understand how certain blood cancers come back years after chemotherapy. BBC has more details.
  • There was coverage of a new study suggesting a link between obesity in teenage boys and a subsequent risk of bowel cancer later in life. The BBC and the Guardian have the story.

Number of the week:


The number of children’s hospital visits that England’s smoking ban prevents each year.

  • A company that manages prescription-drug benefits for US employers and insurers has been making deals with pharmaceutical companies to base the prices of some cancer drugs on how well the drug works. The Wall Street Journal has the full story.
  • Urine for a treat with this next story! Popular Science – along with the BBC – ran a piece about researchers that modified probiotic bacteria (the stuff in yogurt) to light up when signs of cancer were present in urine. But the research was done in mice so there is still a long way to go before there is a urine test for cancer.
  • Reuters reported that smokers are more likely to think cancer is a death sentence.
  • Younger cancer patients are more willing to try alternative therapies, according to a story on Reuters. But we recommend they read our blog post on alternative therapies before they actually use any.
  • The Independent ran an intriguing headline that said: “Machine that unboils eggs now being used to improve cancer treatment”. But don’t get too egg-cited – the device may help speed up research, not treatment.
  • The Cancer Drugs Fund – the pot of money set aside by the NHS in England to pay for new cancer drugs – agreed to continue to pay for one stomach cancer drug, regorafenib, after the manufacturer appealed the initial decision to cut it. The BBC and Pharma Times have more details.
  •  “Discovery could crack cancer code”, said The Times, with an overly ambitious headline. The story was about US researchers who identified six messenger molecules that are found in ovarian cancer cells. But scientists still need to verify that these molecules are actually found in women who have cancer.
  •  Speaking of untested genetic markers, Reuters and Bloomberg reported that a group of international researchers – including some of our own – are saying that new genetic ‘panel’ tests that look for cancer risk markers shouldn’t be used until they are proven to be valid and useful (something that is a growing worry in the US – though less so over here).

And finally…

Gawker highlighted a somewhat unscientific school curriculum taught by a familial cult in the US. Whatever other properties it may or may not bestow, you can relax: semen does NOT cause cancer.



Herpes virus image by Ed Uthman from Houston, TX, USA via Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0