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News digest – smoking rates falling, NHS England failing on waiting times, Budget day and… are you what you eat?

by Michael Walsh | Analysis

11 March 2017

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  • We start with great news on smoking rates in the UK as they hit a record low. Our news report has the new figures with 17.2% of UK adults smoking in 2015, down from 20.1% in 2010. BBC News, Guardian and Daily Mail also reported on this one.
  • But it was more bad news for the NHS in England as the latest monthly figures show the worst performance for a key cancer waiting time target. NHS England aims for 85% of patients to start their cancer treatment within 62 days following an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer. But we reported that this January only 79.7% of patients were treated within that time, meaning that the crucial target has now been missed annually for 3 years. The Guardian also had this one.
  • The ‘Mediterranean diet’ was back in the news, with the Telegraph and Independent among those reporting that the diet ‘could slash risk of breast cancer’. While eating more fruit and veg, and cutting down on unhealthy foods, is a good idea and can reduce the risk of 6 other types of cancer, we’re not convinced that the study proves what the reports claim – take a look at our tweet for more info. NHS Choices also critiqued the research.

  • More diet news from the Mirror and Sun who say that millennials are facing a cancer time bomb because of what they eat and drink, and a lack of physical activity.
  • And this provoked a wave of letters to the Times. See our health pages for tips to help reduce you cancer risk.
  • There’s a lot of promise for blood tests to monitor or detect cancer. The Daily Mail and Sun report on one study claiming to be able to identify where in the body a tumour is growing just by study DNA in a blood sample. But we’re a long way off knowing if this test is accurate enough to test in trials, as we reported below.

  • Wednesday was Budget day, and we reported on the announcement of additional funding for social care and investment in new research training placements. The chancellor also confirmed the tax rates for the new Soft Drinks Industry Levy, the returns from which will go to the Department of Education to invest in school sports and healthy living programmes. The BBC, Guardian and many others picked this one up too.

Number of the week


Pence per litre top rate of tax on sugary drinks, announced in the Budget

  • Brexit will continue to impact on events like Budget day, and the Guardian and ITV News report that it might affect clinical trials looking at children’s cancers. BBC News and the Times said that many drugs are already not being tested in children due to an ‘EU loophole’. We’re calling on the Government to protect EU clinical trials involving UK researchers, and we’re involved in discussions in Brussels to ensure the law is opened up and strengthened for to help children with cancer.
  • The Metro picked up our feature focusing on a team of scientists trying to build a ‘Google Earth’ of tumours, who we recently funded through our Grand Challenge award.
  • There’s no doubting that when immunotherapies work, they produce dramatic results. But the tough challenge ahead is that they don’t work for everyone, as this excellent article from STAT News summarises.

And finally

  • The Sun reported on a drug that may ‘protect a woman’s fertility’ from toxic cancer treatment. But the study was carried out in just 5 mice, so there’s absolutely no guarantee that the results will be the same in women. As Martin Ledwick, our head cancer information nurse, said: “it will be some time before we will know if this is the case.”