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News digest – waiting time woe, cancer plans, post mortem study boost and… John Oliver?

by Henry Scowcroft | Analysis

14 May 2016

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  • And so it continues. Depressing new NHS England waiting time data continue to show a health service creaking under the strain of record patient numbers, with thousands of people waiting more than the target 62 days to start cancer treatment, as the BBC reports here. But in more positive news, the Daily Mail highlighted newly published NHS plans to rectify this unacceptable situation. We blogged about both announcements.
  • In a bid to shed light on what happens during the final stages of cancer, we announced a £4m boost to expand the UK’s first ever national study collecting blood and tissue samples from patients who have died from cancer. Several channels covered the news, including the BBC (and here’s our press release). It’s part of a wider £16m boost for our Centres, to tackle hard-to-treat cancers, which we also revealed this week. More detail in this blog post, and this press release.
  • Four years ago, a team led by researchers at our Cambridge Institute revealed that there were at least 10 different types of breast cancer. This week, they added new detail to this picture, linking 40 genes to the disease and revealing why some forms are so hard to treat. It’s a discovery that will lead to more sophisticated trials and, potentially, better ways to diagnose and treat breast cancer. Here’s our press release; the Daily Mail and Gizmag both covered the story.
  • In the aftermath of last week’s national elections, we took a look at how the results will affect progress against cancer in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Number of the Week


The number of cancer patients, over the past two years, who’ve had to wait more than 62 days between being their initial referral and starting treatment.

  • US President Barack Obama has asked his Vice President, Joe Biden, to oversee a ‘Cancer Moonshot’, to speed up cancer research. This week it was announced that the project would ask for input from patients and the public via online blogging platform Medium. USA Today reports.
  • The Wall Street Journal took a thorough look at the ‘wild west’ of unregulated new prostate cancer tests now on the market in the US.
  • US researchers looking at why some women with early-stage breast cancer choose not to have chemotherapy, found that women using several forms of complementary and alternative therapies – particularly dietary, vitamin or mineral supplements – were more likely to say no. While they weren’t able to uncover the underlying reasons why, the authors called for better training for doctors to help them have conversations with patients. While some forms of complementary therapy can help patients cope with treatment, there’s no evidence they can improve survival and some can even be harmful. We covered the story, as did the Independent.
  • Several newspapers, including The Guardian, covered the launch of new a World Health Organisation database of the health effects of urban air pollution, including increased cancer rates. But while pollution – particularly so-called ‘particulate’ emissions – can raise cancer risk, it’s important to put this risk in context alongside other things like smoking, which have a far bigger effect.
  • But in better news for city-dwellers, a new analysis suggested that, for most people, the benefits of keeping active far outweigh the negative health effects of doing so in polluted urban air. But important context: this is based on mathematical models rather than a clinical study. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging, because both inactivity and obesity raise the risk of several types of cancer. NHS Choices took a detailed look at the findings.
  • A fascinating new approach for harnessing the body’s immune system against cancer made the Mirror (although it’s perhaps a little premature to be calling it a ‘neutron bomb’ – it’s still very early days).
  • And the same newspaper also got equally carried away by early reports of a promising-looking prostate cancer treatment, which hasn’t yet been approved for the European market.
  • The Telegraph looked at robotic surgery for prostate cancer.
  • This is fascinating – US researchers studying how cancer cells move around have found evidence that an existing drug could cause them to get stuck. But it’s too early to know whether this could help improve things for patients, as we told The Independent.
  • Quartz magazine looked at genetic testing from a patient’s point of view.
  • Our researchers wrote a piece for BMJ Blogs about how they’re developing a new leaflet to encourage women with suspected cancer symptoms to visit their GP.
  • In anticipation of a heat wave, several media outlets – including ITV News and the Express – reminded us not just to protect ourselves, but also our pets, from the sun.
  • STAT News’ regular podcast, Signal, devoted a whole (Ninja-themed) episode to discussing recent progress in cancer research. It’s well worth a listen.

And finally…

Regular ‘Digest’ readers will know that this section is where we often poke fun at unscientific or overblown claims of cancer cures and causes, and debunk some of the more sensationalised reporting of cancer.

So this week – where, yet again, a tabloid newspaper claimed that ‘science says’ eating a particular food can prevent a particular type of cancer (will it never stop?) – we’ll leave you with a clip from comedian John Oliver who, over 19 joyous minutes, covers pretty much everything we’ve been trying to say in the years we’ve been writing this section. Enjoy.

– Henry