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News digest – immunotherapy combo, ovarian drug disappointment, artificial DNA… and sunshine wristbands?

by Nick Peel | Analysis

6 June 2015

1 comment 1 comment

Lego DNA

There were loads of stories this week from ASCO 2015, the world’s biggest cancer conference, in the US.

You can read our detailed thoughts on the conference in this blog post – or read on for our media round-up, and – further down – the rest of the week’s news:

  • A big step forward in cancer research dominated the world’s media: a combination of two immunotherapy drugs could offer a powerful “one-two punch” against advanced melanoma, according to important clinical trial results presented at the conference. Here’s what the BBC, Guardian, Mail Online had to say, and here’s our take. NHS Choices took a balanced look too.
  • And this inevitably sparked a debate over how much these drugs will cost, and whether the NHS and healthcare systems around the world will be able to afford them. These articles from the Guardian, Forbes and The Wall Street Journal are all well worth a read.
  • The Guardian and BBC also explained how these immunotherapy drugs actually work (something we’ve also explored here).
  • And the American Cancer Society’s Dr Len wrote a typically thoughtful piece about the discovery.
  • These immunotherapy drugs work in a range of other cancer types – for example, they may also be better than current chemotherapy treatments for lung cancer. The BBC and the Daily Telegraph have more on this.
  • And there were also promising signs that they might work in at least some bowel cancers, as Science Magazine explains.

Number of the week:


The estimated cost in US Dollars for a course of the new combined immunotherapy treatment for melanoma (that’s over £131,000).

  • Also in bowel cancer, tiny radioactive ‘beads’ help treat the disease when it has spread to the liver, according to Australian research. We covered this, and take a look at the Independent and the Daily Telegraph’s coverage for more info.
  • Another study showed that patients whose cancer has spread to the brain had problems with memory, speech and thinking skills after radiotherapy to their entire brain, without seeing any survival benefit. The Guardian has more on the findings that could change how patients are treated.
  • Women who take cholesterol-lowering statin drugs seem to have a lower risk of dying from cancer, according to results from another large study. But it didn’t prove that the drugs were truly behind the mortality reduction – here’s our news report, and the Guardian’s take, for more info.
  • A couple of breast cancer drug trials showed promising results with two drugs that could offer extra options for doctors looking after women with advanced disease. Here’s the slightly overhyped take on the studies from the Daily Telegraph and Mail Online.
  • And experts said that obesity could overtake smoking as the leading cause of cancer, according to reports in the Mail Online, Daily Telegraph and the Guardian.

Of course, there was plenty of other news this week too:

  • Frustratingly, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said ‘no’ to the ovarian cancer drug olaparib (Lynparza) in a preliminary decision over cost. Our chief clinician described the decision as “difficult to understand”, while some of the researchers we supported to develop the drug – Professors Steve Jackson and Paul Workman – shared their disappointment: the former on our blog, the latter on the ICR’s.
  • This Guardian article looks at the balance between funding large and small research projects.
  • This Daily Telegraph article looks at ‘alternative’ cancer therapies.
  • Our scientists discovered that combining a class of drugs called AKT inhibitors with radiotherapy might boost the latter’s effectiveness across a wide range of cancers. Our press release has the details.
  • Wales followed England’s lead by introducing a ban on smoking in cars carrying children. The BBC has the details.
  • Reuters took a look at an experimental device that could help treat a certain type of brain tumour using electric fields. But the research is still in its early stages.
  • US scientists estimated the potential to reduce the number of women who need a second breast operation, by removing more tissue the first time around. The Daily Telegraph covered this, but it’s early days and further follow up from this research will be needed to see if there is any benefit to this approach.
  • Breastfeeding babies could lower their risk of leukaemia in later life, reports the Mirror following an analysis of several studies.
  • An expert panel assembled by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published an analysis of the risks and benefits of breast screening. It’s a complex issue, and there isn’t one definitive answer to the question of how the benefits and harms of breast screening stack up. The Guardian, BBC and Daily Telegraph have more on this, and NHS Choices took an in-depth look at the findings.
  • US laboratory research has potentially opened the door to far more sensitive PET scans for cancer by developing a new way to attach a radioactive molecule to specialised antibody proteins. Our news report has the details.
  • A US man has had the first skull and scalp transplant after being diagnosed with a rare type of cancer. The BBC was among the many media outlets to cover this.
  • Health News Review ran a sceptical eye over a new prostate cancer test.
  • Early stage US research showed that specialised artificial forms of DNA engineered in the lab might be able to seek out cancer cells. This could one day target drugs to cancer cells, but as New Scientist reports, it’s still very much in the realm of the lab for now.
  • A social media campaign dubbed the #HoldACokeWithYourBoobsChallenge has been criticised as potentially ‘making breast cancer sexy’. The Independent has more.
  • Concerns about older people with cancer not being offered treatments that may benefit them were raised in the Mirror.
  • The Mail Online’s take on a new European Food Standards Agency risk assessment of acrylamide is going a bit far – the EFSA say the evidence it causes cancer in people is “limited and inconclusive” – but it’s probably not a great idea to overdo it on chips anyway.

And finally

  • The Mail Online has that ever-popular summer story – UV wristbands. As we’ve said before, everyone’s skin is different and devices like these are unlikely to give you truly personalised information about the ‘right’ amount of sun. Most people should be able to make enough vitamin D without getting sunburnt, by getting to know how their skin reacts to strong sun and protecting it from too much. Read our advice on enjoying the sun safely.




  • Joanna
    6 June 2015

    Good and informative article to read.


  • Joanna
    6 June 2015

    Good and informative article to read.