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News digest – smoking rates falling, aspirin risks, breast cancer drug U-turn and… ‘tanning drugs’?

by Michael Walsh | Analysis

17 June 2017

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Picture of a sunny sky.
  • Smoking rates hit an all-time low in the UK, falling from 17.2% of adults smoking in 2015 to 15.8% in 2016. This makes the UK’s smoking rates the second lowest in Europe, which is great news. The Times and Sun reported on this.
  • The NHS remains under strain as a growing number of hospitals are making cancer patients wait longer than they should for vital NHS treatment, according to official figures. Timely diagnosis and treatment are vital to give patients the best chance of survival. The Guardian reported on this story.
  • More than 700 million people across the world are obese, with high BMI contributing to 4 million deaths, according to a new study that analysed data from 195 countries. Carrying extra weight can cause 13 types of cancer, and the researchers say their findings highlight “a growing and disturbing global public health crisis”. BBC News, the Guardian, Sun and Mail Online had this story.
  • A survey found that while 9 in 10 GPs were aware of the risks of a family history of prostate cancer, just 1 in 10 were likely to ask patients about it. The Daily MailSun and Times had this story.
  • People over 75 who take aspirin every day after a stroke or heart attack to help reduce the risk of future attacks are at higher risk of major stomach bleeds than previously thought. Although aspirin has benefits, including reducing the risk of bowel cancer for those at high risk, it’s vital to balance this with the complications it can cause. But researchers have known for some time that aspirin can increase the risk of stomach bleeds. The Sun, BBC and Guardian reported on this.

Number of the week


the percentage of people who smoked in the UK last year

  • In the first of a few cancer drug decisions this week, the body which evaluates drugs for use by the NHS in Scotland rejected the breast cancer drug pertuzumab (Perjeta) for the third time. The drug is already approved in England. Campaigners branded the decision “bitterly disappointing”. Herald Scotland and the Times reported on this.
  • But 2 new drugs, nivolumab and cabozantinib, have been approved for use on the NHS in Scotland for incurable kidney cancer. The drugs have been shown in clinical trials to extend the lives of kidney cancer patients by several months compared with existing treatments. BBC Scotland has this one.
  • And there’s good news for some advanced breast cancer patients that the drug trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcyla) will be made available on the NHS in England as we reported.  The drug was rejected by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in 2015 due to its high price of £90,000 per patient. Scotland approved it for use earlier this year. BBC NewsIndependent and the Guardian also had this story.
  • Scientists in Birmingham found a molecule that stops breast cancer cells growing in the lab and in mice. The next step will be to see if it has the same effect in people. The Express reported on this.
  • Researchers believe they have developed a test to help predict whether the targeted drug gefitinib (Iressa) will work in people with oesophageal cancer. The research, led by a team at the University of Dundee, follows a decade of work aimed at improving the quality of life for patients affected by the disease. BBC News and The Times reported this one.

And finally…

  • Just in time for summer, there were lots of reports that scientists have developed a drug that tricks skin into producing more of the pigment melanin, which makes it darken. The researchers say the drug-induced tan could help block skin cells from damaging UV rays, causing some to leap to the conclusion that the drug could prevent skin cancer. But the research was carried out on skin samples in the lab and in mice, so ‘tanning drugs’ are still a long way off being tested in people. And with tips proven to help you stay safe in the sun already available, there’s no need to wait.