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News digest – 8 new grand cancer challenges, blood tests, personalising immunotherapy and… ‘go natural’?

by Justine Alford | Analysis

24 June 2017

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  • If you’re a scientist and fancy getting your hands on £20 million then you’d better start thinking of ways to solve one of our 8 newly-launched Grand Challenges. Announced on Thursday, these are some of the greatest obstacles facing cancer research. Various outlets covered this, and we blogged about the science.
  • A whopping 90-tonne machine that’s needed to deliver proton beam therapy – a highly precise type of radiotherapy – just arrived at its new home in Manchester’s Christie Hospital. As BBC News and the Guardian detail, it’ll be treating some cancer patients on the NHS from summer next year.
  • A new widely-reported study funded by us has estimated the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer in women with faulty BRCA genes across different age groups. As our news report explains it could help women, and their doctors, better understand the options they have for reducing their risk.
  • Cut out the jargon from drug leaflets, says a new report from the Academy of Medical Sciences. Covered by the BBC among others, the results of a survey found that patient information leaflets can be confusing and may put people off their medicines, prompting calls for better, clearer information.

Number of the week


The weight in tonnes of the proton beam therapy equipment that’s just been delivered to Manchester.

  • STAT News revealed some unfinished business this week: the Human Genome Project. It reports that parts of our genetic code – originally dismissed as insignificant ‘junk’ DNA – still haven’t been unravelled by scientists, and that these could play a role in diseases like cancer. Read their piece for the ins and outs.
  • Hitting two birds with one stone, scientists in London have developed a new blood test that could help doctors match advanced prostate cancer patients to the best drugs for them, and track whether their treatment is working. Check out our news report and other sources for the details.
  • Work led by our researchers in Southampton may have found a new way to make immunotherapy more personal for lung cancer patients. As we explain in our press release, the same team also identified tumour-fighting immune cells that could be a target for future treatments. The Express also has this one.
  • More on getting personal: For the first time the FDA, in the US, has approved an immunotherapy drug for patients with tumours that have certain molecular signatures, rather than where the cancer is in the body. This opinion piece from STAT News has the significance of this move.
  • Misleading headlines claiming a link between exposure to contaminated cabin air and cancer may have raised fear in flyers. While this report suggested that being exposed to air contaminated with aircraft fluids might cause certain health problems in flight crew, it was based on a small survey and case reports rather than a reliable comparison to people in other jobs, and didn’t show this could cause cancer.
  • Cancer survival may be improving overall, but an opinion piece from STAT News highlights how for some cancers there’s a lot more to be done. The piece focuses on brain tumours, which are among a handful of tumours for which survival hasn’t budged in recent decades. Check out how we’re making a difference to brain tumours here.

And finally

  • The Daily Mail claims there’s a new reason to ‘go natural’, at least when it comes to your hair. They reported on a new US study which looked into the potential relationship between the use of a range of hair products and breast cancer risk. But the study didn’t prove that the hair products investigated caused breast cancer. There’s also no evidence that using hair dyes at home causes cancer. So there’s no need to be alarmed by the headlines.