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News digest – natural killer cells, mobile phones, fatty foods and… a load of rubbish?

by Nick Peel | Analysis

28 May 2016

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Mobile phone
  • We joined a coalition of 30 health organisations to urge the Government to impose new regulations on food companies. We want them to make products healthier and introduce a ban on junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed. The Guardian has the details.
  • US scientists uncovered how a pair of molecules help breast cancer cells anchor themselves in the bone marrow of mice, allowing them to hide from treatment. It’s early days, as the Telegraph reports, but the findings could open up a new way of coaxing these cells out of hiding and killing them.
  • A study suggested that the 2008 financial crisis led to an additional 260,000 cancer deaths across 34 countries that form the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, reports the Guardian and Independent. But countries with universal healthcare, such as the UK, and those that had invested in their health services, hadn’t seen such increases.
  • A pilot study in England will soon be offering the human papillomavirus vaccine to homosexual men in a bid to prevent cancers caused by the infection. The BBC has the details.
  • Scientists in Australia have found a molecular switch inside certain immune cells, called natural killer cells. These calls are one of the body’s first lines of defence, and flipping their switch appears to make them more active against cancer. The Mail Online and Express covered this, and there’s a great video of the cells in action.

Number of the week


The number of people who were found to have been waiting more than a month for radiology test results, including scans to diagnose cancer.

  • Our researchers found that when people worry about wasting their GP’s time, it can make them less likely to discuss so-called ‘red flag’ cancer symptoms with them. Here’s our press release.
  • A US study linked the radio frequencies emitted by mobile phones to brain tumours. But the findings were in rats, not people, so the inevitable headlines suggesting that ‘Using your phone could give you cancer’ were somewhat misleading. STAT News reported the findings well, but they don’t change what the evidence so far shows: mobile phones are unlikely to increase the risk of brain tumours.
  • Hundreds of thousands of patients in England are waiting more than a month for radiology test results, including scans used to diagnose cancer, according to new figures released by the Royal College of Radiologists. Our news report has the details.
  • We announced that the way cancer clinical trials are set up and run among the Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres – a joint initiative between us and the four Health Departments of the UK – will be streamlined.
  • We launched the UK-based part of an international clinical trial looking to find the best way to treat children with a type of brain tumour called ependymoma.
  • A report that claimed we should all be eating more fat, and that promoting low-fat foods had had “disastrous health consequences”, received heavy criticism as experts said the conclusions didn’t consider the evidence as a whole. For more on how a healthy diet can reduce your risk of cancer, visit our website and have a look at Public Health England’s Eatwell Guide.

And finally

  • Results of an Italian study, reported in the Mail Online, suggested that people who’d been exposed to landfill gases were more likely to die subsequently from lung diseases, including lung cancer. But the researchers didn’t seem to have collected any information about other things that could have affected the participants’ risk of disease, such as smoking. So we think there was a whiff of something a bit off about the resulting headlines.