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News digest – NHS cancer services struggling, melanoma drug approved, cancer trap implant and…crocus cancer drug?

by Nick Peel | Analysis

12 September 2015

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  • NHS cancer diagnosis services are understaffed and need new equipment, according to two reports we published this week. The Independent and the Daily Telegraph covered the story, and President of the Royal College of Radiologists, Dr Giles Maskell, blogged for us about the challenges he sees for imaging services.
  • And the staffing challenges extend to specialist cancer nurses too, as these articles from the Guardian and Daily Telegraph highlight.
  • The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said ‘yes’ to offering a new immunotherapy drug on the NHS in England for patients whose melanoma has stopped responding to previous treatments. Here’s our news report, and the Mail Online’s take.
  • UK scientists found that blood levels of a certain molecule may be different in women who carry faulty versions of their BRCA genes (which are linked to breast and ovarian cancers), and speculate that lowering it might help lower their risk. But there’s still a lot more to be done before we know whether this finding could lead to more effective prevention for women at a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
  • The BBC and New Scientist latched on to some early stage research about an implant that can trap blood-borne cancer cells in mice – potentially offering an early warning sign that the disease has started spreading. It’s fascinating research, but there’s still more to be done before a device like this could be tested in people, as this NHS Choices article points out.
  • We opened a new state-of-the-art laboratory in Cambridge as part of a collaboration to develop new treatments and ways of diagnosing cancer. Our press release has the details, and this blog post explores some of the techniques the new lab will deploy.
  • Do e-cigarettes ‘tempt young into smoking,’ as the Daily Telegraph and Mail Online reported? Not based on the study in question, which only included 16 young people who had tried the devices. NHS Choices gives a thorough breakdown of why the study doesn’t support these sweeping claims, which were most likely triggered by this misleading press release.

Number of the week:


The number of radiologists per million people in the UK, compared with 92 in Germany, 112 in Spain and 130 in France.

  • We joined nearly 200 other organisations in outlining why the money Government spends on research is important. The letter appeared in the Financial Times (subscription required), and you can read why Government money is vital for UK science in our blog post.
  • The Mail Online and Daily Telegraph got a little carried away reporting on a study tracking DNA released by cancer cells into the bloodstream. While this approach has real promise, the findings haven’t been published in a scientific journal yet, so this is a long way off being available to patients.
  • And The Verge gave an excellent account of why it’s so important to have reliable evidence that new technology and tests work before they can be offered to patients following a similar story from the US.
  • Scientists from the Institute of Cancer Research in London found more evidence that the risk of cancer linked to inherited genetic factors is greater for testicular cancer than for other forms of cancer. The Mirror has more on this one.
  • This BBC article outlined the challenges the Greek healthcare system is facing due to economic uncertainty.
  • US scientists found that radiotherapy treatment to the skin can produce signals that weaken the immune system’s response to cancer in mice. So it’s too early to make any claims about changing how radiotherapy is used for some skin cancers, as the final few paragraphs of this Mail Online article, and this in-depth report from NHS Choices, point out.
  • This Mail Online article gave an excellent account of the importance – and challenge – of diagnosing cancer early, in this case Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • US scientists found that making areas smoke-free as well as upping tax on cigarettes have helped stop young people from taking up the deadly habit. The Independent has more.

And finally

  • Wake up and smell the…crocuses? “A drug made from crocuses wiped out tumours and cured the disease in one treatment,” says the Mail Online. But this is really early-stage research working with mice (just as it was last time this research hit the headlines). So we’ll wait to see if this plants any seeds for future clinical trials before getting too carried away.