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News digest – Nobel Prizes, elephants, a vanishing boy and wonder diets… Oh my!

by Misha Gajewski | Analysis

10 October 2015

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We thought it was going to be just another week of cancer news but we were wrong.

  • The Nobel prize for chemistry was announced on Wednesday and Cancer Research UK’s Nobel Laureate tally jumped from six to seven. Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar won for their DNA research. The BBC among others reported this momentous occasion. Professor Lindahl was the first director of Cancer Research UK-funded labs at Clare Hall in London, when they opened in 1986. We blogged about how Lindahl’s work revolutionised cancer research. We also blogged about our very first Nobel Laureate, Renato Dulbecco, and his seminal work.
  • The theory goes the more cells you have the more likely those cells could mutate into cancerous cells. So how is it that only five per cent of elephants, who have many more cells than humans, die of cancer? Science now has an answer. According to a new study, elephants have more of the p53 gene that triggers faulty cells to stop growing or self-destruct before they go rogue. For more on this story check out the BBC or New Scientist. Also if you want to learn more about p53 check out this blog post.
  • The BBC and the Guardian reported that freezing ovaries could be a “safe option” for women who want to have children after their cancer treatment. However, experts cautioned that the procedure is still experimental and more long-term research is needed.
  • A deeply distressing story emerged early this week about a boy with jaw cancer who urgently needs surgery, but who has disappeared, allegedly because his parents preferred to treat him with “Chinese medicine”. We’ve blogged before about the dangers of abandoning conventional treatment in favour of alternative therapies and the High Court has ordered that efforts be made to find the boy. The BBC and the Independent among others have all the details of the case.
  • Another important court ruling took place down under. The BBC and the Guardian reported that the Australian high court ruled against US company Myriad Genetics, deciding that the gene BRCA1 is not a patentable invention. Inherited faults in the gene can cause breast, ovarian and other cancers, and the lawyers argued that because genetic material is a product of nature, it can’t be patented.

Number of the week:


The number of copies of the p53 gene that elephants inherit from each parent. Humans only get one.

  • The BBC and the Guardian reported on the growing epidemic of premature deaths caused by smoking in China.  According to a new study published in The Lancet, one in three young Chinese men are predicted to die from smoking unless there’s “widespread cessation”.
  • NICE approved a new drug for advanced skin cancer, pembrolizumab, which was previously available through the Early Access To Medicines Scheme. Our chief clinician said: “We’re pleased that NICE have acted quickly to make it available on the NHS in England and Wales.” The BBC reported this, as did Pharma Times.
  • A new study found that gay and bisexual men were more likely to use tanning beds, which could help explain why they are at an increased risk of skin cancer. Reuters and WebMD have more on this.
  • After all those articles about antioxidants preventing cancer or helping fight cancer, a new study has found that antioxidants could help skin cancer spread (in mice). The Wall Street Journal and the Mail Online reported this.
  • A new study has linked the radiation from the Fukushima disaster to an increase in children’s cancer in the region, but NPR wins our pick for coverage by pointing out that the study didn’t look at each individual’s radiation dose so the story is incomplete.
  • The UK is also leading in end-of-life carethe BBC and Guardian reported it is ‘best in world’, according to data from a new study. Although there is always room for improvement, which we’ve blogged about before.
  • Reuters had an interesting piece about a new study showing that when doctors discussed life expectancy with patients with advanced cancer, it gave the patients a realistic view and didn’t affect their emotional well-being.
  • Speaking of honest conversations, our chief executive suggested that GPs should warn patients about the cancer risks associated with being overweight, and persuade them to lose weight as a way to tackle the UK’s obesity problem. GP Online has the full story.
  • A new study by us showed that bowel screening kits that come with extras, like gloves, could help save more lives. Here’s our press release.
  • Another “simple test” is in the news. This week The Mirror and Mail Online reported about a “simple saliva test” that could be used to measure breast cancer risk and personalise screening. But the test is far from simple and is even further from being used for patients, despite the articles’ optimism. The test looks at 94 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPS) which have been linked to increased breast cancer risk, but more research will be needed to determine if those SNPs can give an accurate prediction.
  • We invested £15 million to inspire collaborative cancer research in hopes of developing better treatments. Find out more in our press release.
  • New research, partly funded by us, found a protein that helps cancer cells hunt for “food”. The researchers suggest that this knowledge could be used to develop new treatments that target this protein in hopes of slowing tumour growth. The Mirror has more on this.
  • The Mail Online reported that the NHS is denying men in England the prostate cancer drug, docetaxel. The drug is given in Scotland as soon as the cancer starts to spread, but isn’t given to men in England until a later stage of the disease. The NHS has commented saying they are waiting for the results of the trial being conducted by us and the MRC.

And finally…

  • Despite us repeating until we are blue in the face that there is no one food or one fad diet that will prevent cancer, that doesn’t stop the tabloids from writing about new ‘ wonder diets’ and ‘superfoods’ that will ‘stave off cancer’. There’s really nothing new for us to say… so here’s the link to all the REAL evidence on food and cancer.