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News digest – Government backs cancer plan, 3D-printed rib cage, ‘robot tadpole’ and…Mediterranean diet?

by Nick Peel | Analysis

19 September 2015

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Olive oil was in the news this week.
  • The week started with some great news: the Government announced its backing of some really important measures to get NHS cancer services on track again. The BBC, Mail Online and Guardian were among the many media outlets to cover the announcement, and we blogged about why this is important for patients.
  • Our scientists found that a gene previously linked to controlling how eyes develop could have a role in fuelling a particular type of leukaemia. Here’s our press release, and one of our PhD students involved in the research blogged about the team’s findings.
  • Does a Mediterranean diet with extra olive oil ‘slash the risk of breast cancer by two-thirds’, as the Independent reported? During the trial, based in Spain, women were assigned to one of three diets – but it is not clear what foods the different groups were eating exactly, and only a small number developed breast cancer, so it’s hard to say for sure the effect their diet had on their risk. Our advice on diet and cancer risk remains unchanged.
  • New stats revealed that the number of cancer patients diagnosed in an emergency is falling. covered the good news, and we blogged about where the figures came from and what they mean.
  • Our scientists in Birmingham found how cancer cells adapt to overcome drugs designed to interfere with their genetic controls. Here’s the press release, and two of the researchers wrote this blog post for us about the study, and also this piece for BioMed Central’s ‘On Biology’ blog.

Number of the week:


The number of days the Government is setting as a waiting time target for 95 per cent of people who have had tests for cancer.

  • There’s variation in how early cancers are diagnosed across the country, according to new NHS figures. The Guardian and Mail Online covered this, and we’ve blogged before about how tackling these differences is really important.
  • Mosaic ran this interesting article about how a single gene fault makes thousands of Brazilian people more likely to be diagnosed with cancer.
  • The cost of the Government’s Cancer Drugs Fund came under question again this week. Here’s the Mail Online and Guardian’s reports.
  • This Huffington Post article took an overly simple look at self-testing kits and cervical cancer prevention. As our quote towards the end points out, cervical screening offered through your GP is the best way to spot signs of what may turn into cervical cancer, not buying a kit online.
  • Technology is amazing: a cancer patient has received the world’s first 3D-printed rib cage to replace damaged bone lost to the disease. Gizmodo has more on this.
  • Chinese scientists have developed a ‘robot tadpole’ that they hope will be able to help diagnose stomach and bowel cancers. Gizmag and the Mail Online covered this, but it’s still only a prototype, and hasn’t been tested in people yet.
  • The BBC covered a new report on the cases of cancer that could be prevented by making healthy lifestyle choices. We’ve conducted similar reviews before and found more than 4 in 10 cases of cancer could be prevented in the UK by making healthy lifestyle choices. Read this blog post to find out more.
  • PharmaTimes covered a new report estimating the cost of cancer deaths on the UK economy as being around £585m a year.
  • The American Cancer Society’s Dr Len Lichtenfeld gave his thoughts on why some US companies might be getting ahead of themselves in selling ‘simple blood tests’ to diagnose cancer before there’s reliable evidence they work.
  • A young cancer patient gave an honest account of what being diagnosed in your 20s is like in this Guardian article.
  • The Mail Online and the Guardian had further coverage of responses to the recent independent e-cigarette report, with scrutiny focused on the estimate that e-cigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful than smoking. But – as you can read in a joint statement we’ve agreed with bodies like Public Health England, Royal College of Physicians and the Royal Society for Public Health – we need to make sure the core message of this report isn’t lost: e-cigarettes are almost certainly far safer than smoking tobacco.
  • Times Higher Education covered some of the early results from our Wikipedia project, looking to improve the accessibility of cancer information on the site.
  • The American Association for Cancer Research blogged about some fascinating new immunotherapy research being presented at its big conference in New York.

And finally

  • Scaremongering headline of the week goes to the Mirror for this about the cancer risk lurking in your garden shed. Although the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate, found in weedkillers, as a ‘probable’ carcinogen, this was mostly based on research in animals. The evidence in people isn’t as strong – mostly coming from studies of people who are exposed to the chemicals through their jobs, like farmers or agricultural workers. These people are often exposed to much higher levels of herbicides and pesticides, so it’s hard to know how this might apply to home gardeners.