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News digest – immunotherapy’s continued promise, aspirin, long legs and… mouth bacteria?

by Nick Peel | Analysis

23 April 2016

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Long legs
  • New Orleans was host to the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual conference this week. Trials testing a few immunotherapy drugs made headlines, including promising responses in patients with advanced skin cancer from two trials and potentially ‘game-changing’ results for some people with head and neck tumours. Our news report has a round-up of the top immunotherapy results.
  • And in the shadow of President Obama’s cancer ‘Moonshot’, this article from The Atlantic gave a great overview of results from another immunotherapy trial for a type of rare skin cancer linked to a virus, called Merkel cell carcinoma.
  • According to another study from the conference, a gene test may improve the way doctors treating women with early-stage breast cancer identify those who can safely avoid post-surgery chemotherapy. We covered this, as did the Mail Online.
  • A new study added some further weight to the idea that regular exercise might be beneficial for men with prostate cancer. The Mail Online has the details

Number of the week


The percentage of people with advanced melanoma that are still alive two years after starting treatment with a combination of two immunotherapy drugs.

  • And finally from the conference (plus a bonus one below), a US study linked having long legs with an increased risk of bowel cancer, according to the Mail Online. This finding tallies with previous research which suggests taller people may be slightly more likely to develop cancer. Scientists aren’t sure why – one theory is that taller people simply have more cells in their body, increasing the chances of one or more of these becoming cancerous. Here’s our info on what you can do to reduce your risk of cancer.
  • A study looking at whether aspirin might cut the chances of dying from cancer picked up a fair bit of coverage. But the analysis combined and compared different types of published studies, so it’s not completely clear if aspirin may be beneficial for those being treated for cancer, as NHS Choices points out. Larger clinical trials will be needed to fully test this, and if you’re thinking of taking aspirin regularly, speak with your GP first.
  • A new report from the World Cancer Research Fund led to headlines linking obesity, alcohol and bacon to stomach cancer. But while the evidence is clear that weight, alcohol, and processed meat can increase a person’s risk of other types of cancer, the evidence for stomach cancer isn’t certain enough to support the claims.
  • This interesting BBC piece looks at how combining computing power and ‘the cloud’ could help scientists crunch more genetic data, uncovering new information about cancer.
  • An ambitious project was announced that will see UK scientists aim to ‘read’ DNA samples from two million people, with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca supporting in the hope of finding new drugs to treat many diseases, including cancer. The Mail Online has more.
  • Media coverage of how celebrities are treated for breast cancer may affect how other women approach their own treatment and the questions they may have, according to this Reuters report on a US study.
  • Following the sad news that comedian Victoria Wood died of cancer this week, the BBC addressed the tough topic of choosing to talk about a cancer diagnosis, or not.

And finally

  • Back in New Orleans, US scientists reported a link between two types of mouth bacteria and pancreatic cancer. But the study doesn’t show that these mouth bugs cause pancreatic cancer, or increase the risk of the disease. And it certainly doesn’t show “How brushing your teeth can ward off CANCER”, as the Mail Online reported.