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News digest – e-cigarettes, Chernobyl, ‘moonshots’ and… canned food?

by Nick Peel | Analysis

30 April 2016

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Canned food
Canned food.
  • The big news this week was the Royal College of Physicians’ report, which concluded that smokers would be better off switching to e-cigarettes as a safer source of nicotine. The BBC, Guardian and Wired were among the many media outlets to cover this, and we blogged about the potential e-cigarettes have as part of the solution to tobacco-related harm.
  • This week marked 30 years since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. We blogged about what’s been learnt since, to try to put radiation risks into perspective.
  • A new over-the-counter cancer gene test launched in the US this week. Wired took a closer look, concluding that just because you can test for a gene fault doesn’t mean it will tell you much. We’ve also blogged about a similar type of test available in the UK.
  • Measuring the levels and changes in a molecule in the blood could help indicate whether breast cancer has come back or spread, reports the Express. But, as the researchers point out, larger studies will be needed before this could be developed into any kind of routine test (and it certainly can’t be ‘done at home’).
  • Profiling a person’s gut bacteria could identify those at risk of blood infections after chemotherapy, write two scientists for the BioMed Central blog. But as they make clear, larger studies in more types of cancer will be needed to pin down how reliable the link is.

Number of the week


The number of years since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Find out more in this blog post.

  • With the recent US launch of several high-profile (and high-value) efforts to tackle cancer – aka ‘moonshots’Nature asked whether the money is going to be spent efficiently.
  • Scientists at Hong Kong University have engineered a non-infectious form of salmonella bacteria that can deliver cancer drugs to tumours in mice, reports International Business Times.
  • This thought-provoking Huffington Post article questioned the language used when talking and writing about cancer, something we’ve discussed here.
  • The Express reported on a study linking irregular periods and an increased risk of ovarian cancer. But while it’s known that other hormonal factors (such as HRT and the Pill) can influence a woman’s risk, it’s still not clear from this study exactly what role irregular periods might play – more research will be needed to find out.
  • Can manipulating electric currents inside cells stop them developing into cancer? US researchers engineered frog embryos so that they could fiddle with the electrical signals inside their cells by shining a flashing blue light at them. Those that carried a cancer-causing gene were prevented from developing into cancer. It’s really early-stage but fascinating research – Reuters has the details.

And finally

  • The Telegraph asked ‘Does canned food cause cancer?’, in a report focusing on a chemical  found in some food packaging called Bisphenol A (BPA). But in short, the answer is no – there’s no good evidence that BPA increases cancer risk in humans.