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News digest – immunotherapies showing promise, breast cancer drug approved for Scotland, childhood cancer rates, and… killer sofas?

by Michael Walsh | Analysis

14 April 2017

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  • The American Association for Cancer Research held its annual conference last week and there were lots of updates on various immunotherapy drugs. We covered some of the most promising clinical trials, but key questions remain about why only some tumours respond.
  • A US-based lab set out to answer that question in melanoma patients, finding that the size of the immunological response needed to shrink a tumour depended on the initial size of the tumour. Our news report has more.
  • Blocking the growth of tumour blood vessels could also be a way of boosting immunotherapy, according to two European studies. Researchers found that tumour blood vessels can stop cancer-fighting immune T-cells from entering the tumour. Blocking the growth of these blood vessels in mice boosted the effects of a type of immunotherapy. Our news report has more details.

Find out more: Immunotherapy

  • Patients with advanced breast cancer in Scotland had some good news with trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcyla) set to be made available on the NHS. The Scottish Medicines Consortium approved its use after the drug’s manufacturers dropped the price. But this raises questions around differences in access across UK nations as the drug is only available in England via the Cancer Drugs Fund. BBC News reported this as well.
  • The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) rejected a ‘game changing’ cancer drug for use in England, in draft guidance. The immunotherapy drug nivolumab (Opdivo), was deemed too expensive for head and neck cancer patients. You can read more in our news report, and the Guardian and Daily Mail also had this one.

Number of the week

13% – the rise in childhood cancers worldwide since the 1980s, partly due to better diagnosis

  • There were calls from teachers for teenage boys to be vaccinated against HPV, which is already offered to girls to protect them from cervical cancer and some other cancer types. Nearly all UK cases of cervical cancer, as well as some other types, are related to HPV – but it’s important to remember that most people with HPV don’t develop cancer. Vaccinating boys would have a public health benefit and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is looking into it – but the evidence for whether this would be cost-effective is less clear. BBC NewsTelegraphTimes and Independent covered various aspects of this story.
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) report that childhood cancers have risen by around 13% worldwide since the 1980s. It’s likely that this reported rise is due in part to improvements in diagnosis – and survival is increasing. The Guardian reported on this story.
  • The Telegraph had a piece on early stage research looking at how cancer cells respond to a molecule found in breast milk. The molecule hasn’t been shown to be safe or effective in people yet and nor does the research provide any evidence that breast milk has any cancer-fighting properties. So we’d urge people not to buy breast milk due to potential safety concerns.
  • Cancer-detecting chewing gum could replace blood tests, according to the Daily Mail and Sun. A biotech company is trying to develop chewing gum that absorbs chemicals released by certain cancers into saliva, which are then analysed. But they haven’t done enough testing to tell whether this technique is able to detect cancer earlier, and the product is a long way off being used clinically

And finally

  • Hold on to your seats, after headlines from the Daily Mail, Sun and Express report that sofas could cause thyroid cancer. The study behind the headlines looked at the exposure of 140 people to flame retardant chemicals used in some sofas and how many of these people developed thyroid cancer. This study didn’t actually look at cause and effect, so shouldn’t be generating any sweeping conclusions, especially when we know that overdiagnosis is likely to be having a large impact on the increasing rates of thyroid cancer.