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News digest – New NICE guidelines, more simple blood tests, and chemical cocktails

by Misha Gajewski | Analysis

27 June 2015

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What's been hitting the headlines this week?
  • This week NICE rolled out its new symptom-based guidelines for suspected cancers, aiming to cut delays between patients seeing their GP and being referred to a specialist. Sara Hiom, our director of early diagnosis, said: “These new guidelines will give GPs more freedom to quickly refer patients with worrying symptoms – crucial for a disease that can be hard for GPs to spot in primary care. This will mean diagnosing more cancers earlier, at a stage when treatment is most likely to be effective, better for patients and ultimately increasing survival.” We covered this important story here on the blog, as did BBC, The Guardian, The Times and others.But despite the initial positive press about the new guidelines, the Royal College of General Practitioners argued that the new referral advice may “swamp services”. GP Online has the story.
  • The newspapers seem to love headlines about “simple blood tests” for cancer, prompted this time by research from American scientists investigating how to spot pancreatic cancer earlier by looking for tiny particles (called exosomes) in the blood. But although it’s an interesting study, it’s not yet close to being an actual test, as our spokesperson Nell Barrie points out in this New Scientist story.
  • We move from blood to spit, with news of a saliva test that could help diagnose mouth cancers. However, more and larger studies are needed before it gets into the clinic, and the price needs to drop significantly. ITV News covered this, as did Yahoo News.

Number of the week


Our investment into major cancer research hubs in Oxford, Manchester and Cambridge

  • We invested £15 million in our new major centres in Oxford, Manchester and Cambridge, supporting life-saving research to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer more effectively. Here’s our press release, which was picked up by the BBC.
  • The Guardian, Daily Mail and The Times all ran a story suggesting that common chemicals we are exposed to every day could cause cancer, in sources ranging from fried potatoes to handwash. NHS Choices was quick to counteract the scaremongering headlines, pointing out that there’s “No evidence ‘cocktail of everyday chemicals’ causes cancer”.
  • That’s not to say that every chemical is safe, and this week the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that the insecticide lindane causes cancer. Lindane’s use has been heavily restricted since 2009. The BBC and Guardian have more.
  • WHO also called out herbicide 2,4-D, a widely used farm chemical, saying it ‘possibly’ causes cancer, although there isn’t consistent evidence from studies of large groups of people to prove a strong link. The story was covered by the Guardian and Reuters.
  • American researchers suggested a five-day ‘fasting’ diet could lower the chances of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, according to excited headlines from the Independent and the Telegraph. But it was an extremely small study only involving 19 participants and the researchers didn’t actually measure whether people’s health improved, so it’s a story to take with a big pinch of salt…
  • In an unusual twist, scientists have teamed up with tobacco companies to make safer e-cigarettes, saying they are trying to improve public health. Reuters covered this, as did The Week.
  • The BBC and Mail Online reported that women in Northern Ireland have the worst ovarian cancer survival rates in the UK, according to charity Target Ovarian Cancer. They also highlight early diagnosis as the key to improving survival.
  • Research linking the popular erectile dysfunction drug, Viagra, with an increased risk of skin cancer was covered by The Daily Telegraph and the Mail. But there’s no solid evidence to suggest that Viagra is linked to melanoma. It’s more likely down to lifestyle, according to this piece in Forbes.
  • To launch our final year of fundraising for the Francis Crick Institute, a new world-leading biomedical research centre opening in London in 2016, acrobats created a ‘Human DNA Helix’. Check it out on our website.
  • Scientists suggest rainbow corals could help track cancer cells. Check out the beautiful “fluorescent disco world” under the sea in this New Scientist piece.
  • Quartz’s Lauren Alix Brown has written a frank, factual and fantastically moving piece about her experience of being diagnosed with breast cancer at just 31.
  • The BBC and the Guardian reported that sunscreen labelling is confusing the public. According to the research by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, only eight per cent of the public knew that the SPF rating refers to protection from UVB rays only. For more information on how to enjoy the sun safely check out our website.
  • A review of 79 medical marijuana trials found that there was little evidence that cannabis has significant health benefits. New Scientist has more on the “weedy health benefits”, and for more on the evidence behind cannabis here’s our in-depth blog post.
  • A new study from researchers in Austria suggests that smokers and ex-smokers are more at risk for prostate cancer. However, the risk dropped if they had quit smoking for 10 years or longer. The Daily Mirror and Mail Online have more.
  • The New York Times ran an interesting piece about a new way to evaluate different cancer treatments, including taking cost into account. The American Society of Clinical Oncology has released new “value framework” considering two financial aspects: the out-of-pocket costs for the patient and the overall cost of a drug to the health system as well as the drug’s effectiveness and side effects. Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal also covered this.
  • Are we sending mixed messages to teens about the safety of e-cigarettes and marijuana? An article by Reuters sheds some light on this issue.
  • Science takes a look at the academic backlash that happened when the cancer reproducibility project published its protocol for replicating the experiments.
  • And finally…
    The winner of the most random and confusing headline award goes to the Daily Express for this gem: “Earth’s weakening ‘magnetic shield’ could see life WIPED OUT as skin cancer levels soar”. But just to be clear, in order for life to be “wiped out” by skin cancer, the magnetic shield – which protects us from deadly radiation – would have to disappear completely, along with the ozone layer. So don’t panic just yet.