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News digest – impact of cervical screening, E-cigarettes, DNA damage and… Pac-Man?

by Justine Alford | Analysis

17 September 2016

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e-cigarette vaper
  • This week, Cancer Research UK scientists published a study that showed the impact of cervical screening in preventing cases of cervical cancer, as well as deaths from the disease. More than two thirds of deaths from the disease are prevented by screening. Although most women take up their screening invite, as the Guardian and many others reported, if all eligible women choose to go for cervical screening regularly, an extra 347 deaths could be prevented each year in England.
  • Scientists in the UK have completed a 10-year-long study involving prostate cancer patients which could change the way some men are treated. As the BBC and the Guardian reported, they found that patients whose early-stage cancers were monitored but not actively treated had the same survival rate over 10 years as those treated with surgery or radiotherapy. This could mean that unnecessary treatment, and the side effects that go with it, could be avoided in some men with the disease.
  • New research has revealed how a type of radiation harms our DNA, raising the risk of cancer. Looking at tumour samples from patients, the team found that exposure to ionising radiation – like X-rays – leads to two distinct patterns of DNA damage in cells. This research could help doctors understand the causes of a person’s cancer, which may affect treatment decisions. Our news report has more info, and the work was also covered here, and you can read more about radiation and cancer here.

Number of the week:


The number of people in England that e-cigarettes may have helped stop smoking in 2015

  • Scientists at the University of Leeds have found that cancer patients may not be getting pain relief early enough to manage their pain. As the Guardian and The Times reported, effective pain relief is important for these patients to keep a good quality of life.
  • Smoking is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer. But research funded by us and carried out at UCL found that e-cigarettes could be playing a role in helping people in England kick the habit. Although we still don’t fully understand the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes, the evidence so far shows that they are much safer than tobacco.
  • At the University of Glasgow, scientists have found a new way to target and kill leukaemia stem cells in mice. As both our news report and the Times explained, these cells aren’t targeted by current drugs and can cause the cancer to return after treatment. Clinical trials are now needed to see if the new drug is safe and effective in patients.

And finally…

  • Could the discovery of a ‘Pac-Man-like’ molecule help in the fight against breast cancer? It’s too early to tell, and headlines suggesting that the research is a ‘breakthrough’ are misleading. Using cells in a dish and mice, UK scientists found that the molecule, called Rac1, prompts breast cells to gobble up their dying neighbours, a process that reduces inflammation. Since inflammation can raise the risk for cancer and other diseases, the interesting discovery may point to a potential new drug target, but more work is needed.