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News digest – goodbye glitzy cigarette packs, ‘sunscreen gene’, Welsh waiting woes and… a cancer-preventing walk?

by Nick Peel | Analysis

21 May 2016

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Cigarette pack
  • Cigarette packs will never look the same again in the UK as new regulations came into force on Friday that will see plain, standardised packs hit the shelves over the coming months. The Guardian covered this, focusing on a final failed legal challenge from the tobacco industry, and we blogged about the how packs will change.
  • Discovering a protective ‘sunscreen gene’ might sound good, but the story was misleading at best. US scientists baked lab-grown cells with DNA-damaging UV rays to uncover how a gene, called the UV Radiation Resistance Associated Gene, can kick the cell’s DNA repair machinery into action – or not, if the gene is missing or faulty. But that’s very different from  suggesting that the gene may help protect people from the sun. For information on the best ways to enjoy the sun safely, visit our website.
  • The latest data from an immunotherapy study found that four in 10 melanoma patients were still alive three years after treatment, giving an early glimpse of how therapies that harness the immune system could give long-term benefits. The BBC has the details.
  • US scientists are testing a modified form of the poliovirus as a possible treatment for a type of brain tumour called glioblastoma. CBS News covered this, as did the Mail Online (just ignore the headline).
  • Wales missed its cancer treatment waiting time target for the ninth financial year in a row, with the latest figures suggesting the health system can’t cope with the growing demand of more cancer referrals. We covered the stats, outlined in our graphic below, and Wales Online has more info.
  • A survey found that middle-aged men are unaware of the health risks linked to alcohol, reports the Guardian. This supports our own recent research, with experts suggesting that labelling on alcohol could help inform people of the risks.
  • Wired explains the reasons behind the recent conflicting reports about glyphosate – the chemical in weedkiller Roundup – and whether it can cause cancer.
  • A large US study found that HIV-infected cancer patients were less likely to be getting treatment for their disease than uninfected patients, reports Reuters.

Number of the week


The risk of bowel cancer, womb cancer, and breast cancer after the menopause can all be reduced with physical activity, according to the evidence (not 13 types of cancer as was claimed this week).

  • Following the recent renewed US focus on tackling cancer, spearheaded by several financial ‘moonshots’, STAT News explores the plans for collecting, combining and sharing data to help speed up research.
  • US scientists are attempting to ‘trap’ breast cancer cells before they are able to spread to other organs, according to this piece in The Conversation.
  • Our scientists found that a person’s risk of developing some cancers might be affected by how they grew up, with those in the poorest housing conditions, and those whose fathers had lower status jobs, having a higher risk of developing and dying from bowel cancer. The Mail Online covered this, and here’s our press release.
  • STAT News covered the race to develop drugs against a cell’s own ‘tiny garbage truck’, otherwise known as the proteasome.
  • Scientists have tracked the spread of a type of cancer in dogs that can be transmitted through sexual contact between individual animals. The BBC has the details.
  • A US man underwent the country’s first ever penis transplant following treatment for cancer, reports BuzzFeed.
  • A large US study reinforced the point that many cancers could be prevented through lifestyle changes. The Mail Online covered what people can do to reduce their risk, but it’s important to remember Government policy also needs to help make healthier choices easier.
  • Does it matter what side of the bowel a tumour develops in? Research from the US suggests it might, according to this report from STAT News.
  • Wired got the low-down on how the design of the new Francis Crick Institute in London aims to help scientists mingle.

And finally

  • Being physically active is definitely a good thing, but a couple of media reports veered into misleading territory stating that preventing 13 types of cancer was simply ‘a walk in the park’, after a study suggested new links. We explain why it’s a bit more complicated than that in this blog post.


Image credit: Flickr/CC BY 2.0