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News digest – immunotherapy ‘cures’, saliva tests, sugary drinks… and mobile phones

by Misha Gajewski | Analysis

20 February 2016

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  • The huge potential of cancer treatments that target the immune system led to saturated (and occasionally over-the-top) news again this week. Researchers at a US conference described how they’d taken immune cells from patients with certain blood cancers, and re-engineered them to be able to attack and kill cancer cells when injected back into the patient’s body (we’ve previously written about the science behind this incredible technique here). But while this week’s announcement is an exciting step forward, the long and short of it is that it’s a small study, and the results haven’t been published yet so there is some way to go before it will be proven safe and effective for patients. We also dissected the announcement, and the reaction to it, in this post.
  • The Sun and Sky News among others reported that researchers are developing a new cancer ‘test’ that aims to detect cancer early by looking for bits of tumour DNA in saliva. Despite the papers claiming that a test based in the discovery could be, it still needs to be proven to work in wider clinical trials, then get approved by the necessary regulatory bodies.
  • The excellent Health News Review website took a combined look at both of these stories
  • Our new figures showed that cancer rates are up 12 per cent since the mid 90s. The BBC reported this, as did the Guardian and Telegraph among others, and here’s our press release. (And here’s an article we wrote previously, discussing why rates are on the up.)
  • New figures released by the Office for National Statistics showed that while smoking rates in men are the lowest they’ve ever been since 1974, the number of young women smoking is on the rise, but overall the declining rate of people smoking has stalled. The report also showed that more than 2 million Brits use e-cigarettes. Sky News and the Daily Mail have more on this story. We also covered this.

Number of the week


The number of cases of obesity that could be prevented if a sugar tax is introduced.

  • A study in mice suggested that animals that did vigorous exercise released molecules that appeared to slow the growth of their tumours. But it is as yet unclear whether this is something that could apply to people. Although the link between exercise as a treatment for cancer is something CRUK are running trials on, as our story from back in January shows. New Scientist has more.
  • A new report from Action on Sugar showed that some hot drinks sold by high street stores contain enough sugar to triple your maximum daily intake. The BBC has more details on which drinks are the worst offenders.
  • And speaking of sugar, according to the Financial Times and The Telegraph, the Government is set to drop plans to introduce a sugar tax.
  • But that wouldn’t be wise, according to results of a report we commissioned showing how taxing sugary drinks could prevent 3.7 million cases of obesity over the next decade. BBC and the Guardian covered this, and here’s our press release.
  • And if you want to know more about why we think tackling obesity is so important – especially in children – read this blog post.
  • After the World Health Organisation’s warning last year about processed and red meat, a third of Britons have cut down on their meat consumption according to a survey. The Independent and MailOnline have more details.
  • The Guardian and the Independent reported the results of a survey that found that thousands with cancer spend their last days in pain. (We discussed end of life care in this blog post).
  • New Scientist had an interesting piece on how researchers at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center are trying to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to read through doctor’s notes and find hidden links in cancer cases that the doctor’s might have missed. Read it here.
  • Many patients with less ‘high-profile’ types of cancer are waiting longer before they started treatment, according to a story in the Mail on Sunday based on a Cancer research UK analysis of the latest government official figure.
  • The Wellcome Trust’s Mosiac magazine took a detailed look at a topic that crops up again and again in the media – whether animals can detect diseases like cancer.
  • STAT News looked at cloud computing and whether it has a role in cancer research.
  • A study showed that more young breast cancer patients in the US are having tests to see if they carry gene faults linked to the disease. Reuters has the story.
  • Research presented at a conference in America suggested that women who had more vaginal sexual partners had a lower chance of getting an oral human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which has been linked to oral cancer. The Mirror and the Daily Mail both reported the finding.
  • Also fascinating was the story widely reported by the BBC, Guardian and others. For the first time doctors 3D-printed ‘living’ body parts. However, more research will be needed before we see this technique being used in patients.
  • The Medical Research Council’s ‘Insight’ blog looked at the working life of a computational cancer researcher.

And finally…

  • An Australian television programme, Catalyst, set out to investigate whether there was a link between smartphones and brain tumours. But the programme prompted a strong reaction from experts, saying the show was scientifically flawed and ‘shouldn’t have aired’. We’ve written about mobile phones and brain cancer many times. Spoiler alert: there is currently no strong evidence to show that mobile phones cause cancer.