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News digest – boosting lung cancer survival, a ‘Sci-Fi’ cap for brain tumours, crisps, air pollution and… go vegan?

by Justine Alford | Analysis

8 April 2017

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  • Kicking off with some good news, widely-reported results from a ‘landmark’ clinical trial suggest that an immunotherapy drug can boost long-term survival in some lung cancer patients. Presented at a conference in the US, this is excellent news for a hard-to-treat cancer. The drug nivolumab is already approved in the UK for some melanoma and kidney cancers, but it isn’t yet approved for lung cancer.
  • More encouraging findings came from another trial which showed that an innovative, ‘Sci-Fi’ cap could help improve survival for patients with glioblastoma, a type of brain tumour that’s hard to treat. The cap is thought to work by sending out pulses that could disrupt tumour cell growth. The work was presented at the same US conference.
  • City-dwellers may have been concerned by misleading headlines this week reporting that air pollution could raise the risk of breast cancer. As we blogged about, this study didn’t actually look at the risk of breast cancer at all. And while it found a tenuous link between breast density – a possible risk factor for breast cancer – and high levels of air pollution, it couldn’t prove that dirty air was the cause.
  • Detecting ‘smelly molecules’ released by tumour cells could help in the diagnosis of prostate cancer, new research reported in the Times suggests. As we commented, if the tests are found to be accurate, this could save some men from invasive biopsies.
  • The HPV vaccine – which protects against most cervical cancers and a number of other cancers – is already showing signs of success in Scotland. Levels of infection with the virus have plummeted in vaccinated women since its introduction, BuzzFeed reports.

Number of the week


The number of patients enrolled in a trial that tested a wearable device for brain tumour treatment.

  • The potential dangers of fried potatoes hit headlines again: a new study found that many kinds of crisps contain high levels of acrylamide, a chemical linked to cancer in animals. But while high-calorie crisps should be kept as treat foods, it’s too soon to say if acrylamide causes cancer in people, something we’ve blogged about before.
  • A stroke drug could help break down pancreatic cancer’s protective shield, helping drugs get to the tumour cells, New Scientist and others reported. This approach helped mice with the aggressive disease live longer, but more work is needed before it can be tested in people.
  • BBC News covered a study linking long-term antibiotic use to growths in the bowel, some of which may develop into cancer. This could suggest that gut bugs, which antibiotics can affect, may play a role in tumour development, but it’s too early to say for certain.
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke during early life – either from smoking during pregnancy or passive smoking during a child’s early years – could cause genetic changes in the child that are linked with a type of leukaemia, Reuters reports. The evidence isn’t yet clear on what factors are linked to childhood cancer, but we know smoking during pregnancy and passive smoking are both harmful, so this highlights how important it is to stop.
  • Early findings suggest that people with cancer could be at a higher risk of suicide than those without the disease, according to the Guardian. Cancer can be extremely tough on both physical and mental health, so this reinforces the need for greater recognition and help for anxiety and depression in cancer patients. And that was a topic we covered for this year’s World Health Day, as cancer survivor Tom shared his story of how depression after treatment inspired a career change to become a doctor.

And finally…

  • Going vegan could cut the risk of several types of cancer, says the Daily Mail. They reported on the University of Ghent’s analysis of published research which found that people who ate a soya-rich diet, swapped dairy for soya, or cut out dairy completely had lower risks of certain types of cancer. So far the evidence for a link between dairy and cancer is still unconvincing. On top of that, this study has a glaring conflict of interest: it was sponsored by The Alpro Foundation.