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News digest – Cancer Drugs Fund, pigeons, oral sex and… another not-so-simple blood test?

by Misha Gajewski | Analysis

21 November 2015

1 comment 1 comment

  • NHS England and NICE set out their long-awaited plans for reform that we hope will speed up the way effective drugs are made available to patients. The BBC and Guardian among others covered this, and we blogged about the key changes we want to see here.
  • A report by the European Food Safety Authority highlighted higher levels of acrylamide in starchy foods when they’re cooked at high temperatures. Although there has been some indication that the chemical could be linked to some types of cancer, the evidence for this is limited and inconsistent, so we can’t be sure if this link is real. So, even if you’ve read these stories in The Mail and the Telegraph, don’t fret too much about your morning toast.
  • Turns out pigeons aren’t just a nuisance. They could help speed up research on medical imaging. We covered this story as did New Scientist, the Independent, Daily Mail among many others.
  • In other animal news, the largest ever group of healthy Tasmanian Devils has been returned to its homeland in the hope of saving the species from extinction by a contagious cancer. The Telegraph has all the details.
  • Oral sex ‘expected to overtake smoking’ as main mouth cancer cause” read a misleading headline in The Sun. While there has been a rise in mouth cancer rates, smoking still causes 65 per cent of mouth cancers in the UK, whereas only 8 to 14 per cent of cases are thought to be linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV).  So there would have to be a big decrease in other oral cancer risk factors such as smoking and drinking for this to change. For more information about the reasons behind the rise in mouth cancers check out our blog post or press release.
  • The Daily Mail reported about a new phone app that gives you a “risk rating” for skin cancer based on photos of moles and freckles. But we’ve blogged about how these apps can be misleading and if you’re concerned about a mole or freckle it’s best to go to your GP.

Number of the week


The number of healthy Tazmanian Devils released back into the wild.

  • Nice ruled that the breast cancer drug, Kadcyla, is too expensive to be offered on the NHS. The Cancer Drugs Fund will still pay for the drug in England but patients in Wales and Scotland won’t be able to get it – further highlighting the urgent need for reform. The BBC and Guardian have more on this.
  • The Daily Mail reported that one in three women don’t regularly check their breasts for signs of cancer. But it’s better to get to know your body so you know what is normal for you as research has shown that regularly checking breasts at a set time in a set way could actually do more harm than good, as we explain here.
  • Both the BBC and UTV covered some early stage pancreatic cancer research, involving injecting drug-coated oxygen microbubbles directly into tumours. But we couldn’t see any details that backed up the claim that this was a ‘major breakthrough’, so it’s hard to know exactly what to make of this one.
  • A new lung cancer pill produced by pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca, was given approval in the US, reports the Guardian.
  • Results from a US study added to the evidence of a link between being infertile and developing testicular cancer. The Times (subscription) has the story (and here’s our info about the possible causes of testicular cancer).
  • A lack of experienced staff means that patients in Scotland are missing out on advanced radiotherapy treatment, reported the Glasgow Evening Times and the Scotsman.
  • But the BBC reported that Scotland’s cancer death rates are down by 11 per cent in the past 10 years.
  • Our chief executive, Harpal Kumar, outlined the reasons why a global approach is essential to beating cancer on the World Cancer Research Fund blog.
  • In a fascinating study, US researchers analysed the DNA of more than 1,000 children and adolescents with cancer and found that almost 10 per cent carried genes that could increase their risk of cancer later in life – a higher number than previously thought. Time Magazine has the full story
  • Gizmag reported an interesting story about researchers from the University of Montreal who may have found a more effective way to deliver a type of immunotherapy treatment. They use a biodegradable gel that acts as a breeding ground for cancer-killing T-cells that can be injected into, or next to, a tumour. This could help minimise side effects but so far the gel has only been tested in the lab.
  • Another story from Gizmag looked at some interesting early-stage research from Sweden, trying to spot cancer fingerprints in the blood.
  • Nature published an interesting article about how big genomic data from genetically sequenced tumours could change patient care.
  • In this eye-opening video the BBC takes a look at what it’s like to be a cancer nurse in Gaza.

And finally

  • The Daily Mail and the Telegraph were both equally guilty of using the “simple blood test” headline this week, referring to a small study that analysed blood samples to find molecules to suggest the presence of ovarian cancer. The method involved separating the serum from blood, then further separating the proteins and molecules in the serum using highly specialised machinery. Finally the researchers ran all the molecules through a computer algorithm to find which molecules were in women with ovarian cancer but not in women who were cancer free. So, it’s NOT yet a ‘simple’ blood test – nor even a ‘test’ in the ordinary sense of the word.



  • Chris and Steph
    21 November 2015

    Nature article is part of a good series of papers about breast cancer
    Thx to the bloggers for the NCRI coverage


  • Chris and Steph
    21 November 2015

    Nature article is part of a good series of papers about breast cancer
    Thx to the bloggers for the NCRI coverage