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News digest – another not-so-simple ‘blood test’, 3D virtual tumour, reprogrammed cells and… purple potatoes?

by Nick Peel | Analysis

29 August 2015

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  • UK scientists provided further evidence that looking for tumour cell DNA in the bloodstream could help monitor women with breast cancer. But that doesn’t make the complex genetic analysis a ‘simple blood test’, as was reported by many media outlets (most likely led astray by the press release). Here’s our news report, or watch us on the Today Programme discussing the details.
  • “Scientists discover how to ‘switch off’ cancer,” according to the Mail Online. But that’s stretching the research findings a bit far, which actually used lab-grown cancer cells to help understand a switch that tells certain cells when to grow, and when to stop.
  • ‘Tumourgotchi’, anyone? Scientists have developed a 3D computer simulation of a tumour that could help make predictions about how cancer cells change as they grow and spread. The Mail Online and the Independent covered this, and this excellent blog post from the Science Museum explores what the research showed.
  • A few radiotherapy stories appeared this week. The first covered our new survey showing that half of people questioned aren’t aware of new advanced forms of radiotherapy. ITV News covered this, and Dr Diana Tait, chair of the Radiotherapy Awareness Programme, blogged for us about the results.
  • The Guardian ran this excellent article on the arrival of proton beam therapy to the Christie hospital in Manchester (but wrongly said there was evidence that it could be used to treat prostate cancer). Here’s our blog post on where things stand with the introduction of the treatment to more UK centres.

Number of the week:


The number of ‘simple blood tests’ developed this week

  • And The Wall Street Journal looked at one new type of radiotherapy that can be used for women with early stage breast cancer.
  • The BBC covered an early trial of a specialised laser tool that could help spot the difference between healthy and cancerous tissue during brain surgery.
  • One of the researchers who led last week’s study on aspirin and inherited bowel cancer wrote about the findings for The Conversation.
  • Scientists from the Institute of Cancer Research homed in on the shape-shifting skills of melanoma cells as they spread. Here’s their write-up of the study.
  • Research suggested that taking drugs called beta blockers alongside chemotherapy might be able to extend lives of women with ovarian cancer. But the study involved looking at patient records, rather than being a trial set up to test the effectiveness of the drugs. So more research is needed on this one.
  • Reuters covered a US study suggesting that the distance a patient has to travel might affect their likelihood of turning up to hospital for chemotherapy to stop their bowel cancer coming back.
  • This in-depth article from Nature takes a look at the Government’s 100,000 genomes project, which aims to learn more about diseases by reading the entire genetic code of thousands of people being treated for a variety of diseases, including cancer.
  • Could incense smoke be as bad as smoking? No. And the research on cells featured in the Mail Online, which was funded by the tobacco industry, isn’t going to change that. NHS Choices takes an in-depth look.
  • The American Cancer Society’s Dr Len wrote this post about recent research on a form of breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).

And finally

  • Half-baked and overhyped, that’s all we can conclude from this Mirror article claiming that ‘experts’ have said: “Eating purple potatoes could help people beat cancer”. They haven’t. Oh, and there’s no such thing as a ‘superfood’.