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News digest – joining Joe Biden’s ‘moonshot’, skin cancer stats, e-cigarettes and… liquid aspirin?

by Nick Peel | Analysis

2 July 2016

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Aspirin tablets
  • We joined US Vice President Joe Biden’s ‘Cancer Moonshot’ initiative as its first international collaborator. Our scientists in Manchester will be working with a team from the University of California to develop exciting new technology that could help detect lung and bowel cancers earlier. Our press release and blog post have the details.
  • Biden also unveiled several other key parts of his initiative at a US summit, including the loan of IBM’s supercomputer, Watson. STAT News has more on some of the announcements.
  • Our latest figures revealed a worrying milestone has been reached as the number of over 55s diagnosed with melanoma in a single year passed 10,000 for the first time. The Telegraph and Mail Online were among many to cover this, and here’s our press release.
  • The Mail Online ran an extremely misleading headline claiming a study showed e-cigarettes ‘ARE a gateway to smoking for young people’. While the study in question found a link between smoking and e-cigarette use, it’s just a one-off survey so it’s not possible say use of one led to the other. Read our blog post for why there’s no good evidence that e-cigarettes are encouraging more young people to become smokers.

Number of the week


The number of cases of melanoma diagnosed in people 55 and over in 2014.

  • UK experts questioned whether a threshold could be lowered so that more women at high risk of ovarian cancer could be offered surgery to prevent the disease. The Mail Online covered this, but it’s still a theory based on existing data, and any potential benefits would need testing in trials.
  • Our scientists found that a drug already approved for leukaemia patients could also be used to treat a specific type of ovarian cancer. Here’s the press release.
  • Early signs of cancer could be detected using experimental paper strips to pick up molecules in the blood, according to US scientists. But this is a long way off the easy, at-home-testing this Mail Online article suggests.
  • UK scientists believe that the way some brain tumour cells are grown in the lab may have masked one of the ways they gather energy to divide – slowing down research progress, according to this report from the Independent.
  • Breast tumours in stressed out mice spread more quickly than in non-stressed mice, according to Australian lab research. But it’s a massive leap to suggest that ‘being stressed’ – something that’s practically unavoidable if you have cancer – makes the disease spread faster in patients, as the Mail Online did. Meanwhile in the Guardian, oncologist and writer Ranjana Srivistava took a characteristically thoughtful, patient-focused look at the research and its implications
  • The Huffington Post also made a leap from mice to men (and their daughters), suggesting that obese male mice have an increased likelihood of fathering overweight offspring, due to obesity-linked changes to the DNA in their sperm. And those offspring who were female had an increased chance of subsequently developing breast cancer. But we’re still talking about mice here – it’s not possible to say from this that the daughters of overweight men are at an increased risk of breast cancer.
  • If you’ve been watching the Euro 2016 (sorry England) you’ve probably been exposed to a lot of adverts for alcohol, reports the BBC. Increased alcohol consumption is linked to a raised risk of several types of cancer.
  • This excellent Forbes article attempts to answer the question: “What is the real origin of cancer?”
  • “Do scientific fraudsters deserve a second chance?” Asks STAT News.

And finally

  • There’s an urgent need to develop better treatments for brain tumours. But these articles from the Mail Online and Express are misleading in their promise of a liquid form of aspirin being ‘‘ten times’ more effective for treating cancer’. It appears that the drug has only been tested on cancer cells grown in the lab, which is very different from testing them in people. This is especially true for brain tumours, which can be shielded from drugs by a barrier between the bloodstream and the brain tissue, making rigorous, well-designed trials all the more important before such conclusions can be drawn.