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News digest – ‘genetic chaos’, cancer screening, ‘weekend warriors’, personalised medicine and… Nutella?

by Michael Walsh | Analysis

14 January 2017

1 comment 1 comment

  • Scientists from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute found a way to reduce the ability of cancer cells to spread in mice by tinkering with a gene. This is positive news, but as our news report and the BBC pointed out more research is needed to see if the same thing happens in people.
  • There was more good news as promising results in glioblastoma, the most common type of brain tumour, could lead to “a way to cut off the tumour’s fuel supply”. Fewer than 5 in every 100 people surviving this disease for at least 5 years after diagnosis and this research might one day help to change that.
  • The Welsh government announced plans to introduce improved screening tests for cervical and bowel cancer over the next couple of years. Find out more in our news report.
  • And we also reported on a study confirming that mammograms for breast cancer screening can lead to some women having unnecessary treatment. The Daily Mail and Reuters covered this Danish study too, which reinforces the fact that breast screening has harms as well as benefits, and the importance of providing balanced info for women.
  • And other research, led by scientists at the Francis Crick Institute, showed how cancer cells cope with genetic chaos. Take a look at our press release to find out how they do it.

Watch the animation from the Francis Crick Institute on YouTube

  • Meanwhile, another study suggested that small cell lung cancer should not be treated as a single disease and could be categorised based on genetic differences in the cancer cells.
  • A report by the World Health Organisation and the US National Cancer Institute found that tobacco control measures were cost-effective, but under-used in some countries.
  • These are uncertain political times in the US. Outgoing Vice President, Joe Biden, has vowed to push pharmaceutical companies to ensure patients can afford treatments when he leaves office in a few days’ time. He’s especially focusing on cancer, and STAT News has the details.
  • We warned that cancer meetings where a range of experts discuss individual patients are under growing pressure, as the number of patients assessed by these specialists is increasing. Our senior clinical adviser, Professor Arnie Purushotham, said that these multidisciplinary team meetings in cancer care need to change, and the BMJ followed up on the story.

Number of the week

1.4 million

The number of discussions about cancer patients that took place in hospitals at specialist cancer meetings across the UK last year

  • The Economist gazed into its crystal ball and had a go at predicting what 2017 might have in store in precision, or personalised, medicine. This is the idea that subtle differences in genetics or molecules between different patients and diseases will affect the success of certain treatments, which is a big area of cancer research.
  • And there’s interesting news for so-called ‘weekend warriors’ with BBC News reporting on a study that found people who cram all of their recommended exercise time into the weekend still get ‘significant health benefits’. But the study also found people who were regularly active benefited the most.

And finally

  • The maker of Nutella has hit back against claims that substances made from heating palm oil, a key ingredient in the nutty spread, might increase the risk of cancer. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was behind the claims from last year, but suggested further studies are needed and stopped short of recommending that people avoid palm oil. The Telegraph and Daily Mail picked this one up.



  • Pujan Soni
    17 January 2017

    Great research Michael. Agree that heating palm oil may be responsible but i think more research and studies are needed.


  • Pujan Soni
    17 January 2017

    Great research Michael. Agree that heating palm oil may be responsible but i think more research and studies are needed.