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News digest – ‘complete picture’ of breast cancer, robo-surgery, mobile phones and… a ‘universal cure’?

by Nick Peel | Analysis

7 May 2016

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Robot surgeon
Robot surgeon.
  • A study analysing the complete genetic code of hundreds of patients’ breast tumours has given scientists an almost ‘complete picture’ of the disease. We covered this, as did the BBC, the Guardian and NHS Choices.
  • Plans to introduce plain, standardised packaging for cigarettes in the UK were given European backing after legal challenge from the tobacco industry failed. The BBC has more, and we also covered the the European Court of Justice ruling.
  • The US has announced new anti-smoking laws, including tough measures on e-cigarettes, reports the BBC.
  • And STAT News took a closer look at the many different ways that governments can attempt to tackle smoking rates.
  • While the Australian government has announced price rises on cigarettes too, reports the Telegraph.

Number of the week


The number of breast tumours included in a large genetic analysis that is helping scientists better understand the disease.

  • A robot successfully stitched together pieces of pig bowel (under the supervision of a surgeon), reports the BBC. But saying that: “Machines could operate on cancer patients,” as the Express did, is a stretch. This STAT News opinion piece gives an excellent breakdown of why it’s too soon to talk of swapping people for robo-surgeons.
  • If mobile phones caused brain cancers, you’d expect to see a rise in rates – but according to Australian scientists there hasn’t been one yet. The team behind the analysis wrote this for The Conversation, and you can read more about mobile phones on our website.
  • This interesting, and worrying, Vice News article looks at how breast cancer affects women in Palestine.
  • US scientists are testing whether a laser technology can be used to breach a biological barrier that can stop blood-borne drugs from reaching brain tissue. Reuters has the details.
  • Initial findings in mice, from scientists at the Institute for Cancer Research in London, suggest a new type of experimental drug could prove effective in targeting treatment-resistant prostate cancers. This BBC report has more info.
  • With a US slant, STAT News looked at the price of orally delivered cancer drugs when they launch. The conclusion? They are expensive.
  • Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $55 million in damages to a US woman. But this raised the question of whether using talcum powder on the genitals increases the risk of ovarian cancer in the first place. The available scientific evidence doesn’t give a clear picture on a potential link, so researchers are still investigating. But even if there is any increase in risk, it would be fairly small. More on the evidence on talc and cancer here.
  • The Independent reports on a new potential immunotherapy treatment that targets molecules found in the blood, turning them against tumour cells. It’s early days though, and more work is needed to see whether this will work in people.
  • An Australian ‘wellness’ blogger who falsely claimed to have cancer faces legal action, reports the BBC and Guardian.

And finally

  • Sound the ‘Irresponsible Headline’ Klaxon as the Mail Online asked: “Are we on the brink of a UNIVERSAL cancer cure?” They were reporting on the preliminary findings of lab research that’s tampering with cancer cells’ energy supplies. But the scientists were using lab techniques that haven’t been shown to work in people, so still a long way off becoming any kind of new treatment, much less one that could treat all types of cancer. Gizmag did a slightly better job of covering this, but not much.