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News digest – pancreatic cancer redefined, chemo tricks to tackle cancer evolution, talcum powder and… carrots?

by Nick Peel | Analysis

27 February 2016

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Microscope image of pancreatic cancer cells
Pancreatic cancer cells - image courtesy of the London Research Institute EM Unit
  • An international consortium of scientists, led by a Cancer Research UK team in Glasgow, redefined pancreatic cancer as four different diseases. We covered this, as did the BBC and NHS Choices.
  • Keeping cancer at bay with low doses of chemo might prove more effective than trying to destroy it outright, according to an early-stage US study in mice. Our news report has the details, and here are the reports from the Guardian and New Scientist.
  • NHS England agreed to proposed changes to the Cancer Drugs Fund, reports the BBC. Here’s our recent analysis of what those changes will mean for the Fund.
  • Drug pricing is also proving a key topic in the build up to the US elections. STAT News had these two articles looking at the issue.
  • Nearly half a century ago, US President Richard Nixon declared a ‘war on cancer’. Earlier this year, President Obama announced a similar initiative, with a ‘cancer moonshot’ to develop cures for the disease. But do these grand declarations actually make a difference? An excellent BBC Radio 4 programme set out this week to explore this issue – here’s part 1 (featuring a few of our staff and scientists) – part 2 airs next week.
  • A new report highlighted the health burden air pollution is causing in the UK. The BBC, Guardian and Telegraph covered this, and we blogged about the report too.
  • Detecting DNA changes in blood samples could help predict the difference between the body’s ‘chronological’ and ‘biological’ ages, according to early US research. This could offer information about cancer risk in some tissues, but it’s some way off being an actual ‘blood test’ as the Telegraph suggested.

Number of the week


The number of deaths each year in the UK that are linked to air pollution, according to a new report

  • A potentially ‘worrying’ poll revealed that nearly one in three GPs have had their referrals via the ‘two week wait’ system in England bounced back or downgraded, according to an exclusive in GP Online.
  • A lawsuit sparked discussion around whether women who use talcum powder on their genitals have a higher risk of ovarian cancer, as the BBC reported. But the available scientific evidence doesn’t give a clear picture on whether there’s a potential link, so researchers are still investigating. But even if there is a risk it would be fairly small. More on the evidence around talc and cancer here.
  • Vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV) has seen infection levels among US teen girls drop, according to reports in New Scientist and the New York Times.
  • The government was said to have ‘failed the next generation’ as it delayed the publication of its childhood obesity strategy (again), according to the Guardian.
  • We launched a new immunotherapy trial for head and neck cancers. Our press release and blog post have the details.
  • More people are being diagnosed with cancer, but more people are surviving too, report the Metro and Mail Online following new figures from the Office for National Statistics.
  • A fancy new microscopy technique is helping scientists track the shape shifting skills of cancer cells as they move, reports Wired.
  • Ranjana Srivastava is an Australian cancer clinician and author who writes a regular column for the Guardian. This week’s piece, on inequalities in cancer care, is well worth reading.

And finally

  • “Eating carrots could slash the risk of breast cancer,” says the Mail Online. But the study – which we helped fund – was actually looking at levels of some vitamins and nutrients in the blood and whether they were linked to breast cancer, not whether carrots cut cancer risk.