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News digest – late smear test results, dogs on prescription, cancer gene map, and… salmon sperm sunscreen?

by Michael Walsh | Analysis

29 July 2017

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  • According to NHS England figures, nearly half of women who attended cervical screening in England have to wait longer than the two-week target to get their results. BBC News reports that only 54% of women got their results within the target time and delays are being blamed on staffing levels. New changes to cervical screening are likely to help this situation, but we also need to train and employ more people in diagnostic services of the NHS.
  • New research suggests that smokers at high risk of lung cancer who had a CT scan of their lungs were more likely to report quitting smoking than those who didn’t get a scan. Researchers at Cardiff University said screening offered a chance to give smokers information that might help them quit, rather than a negative screening result offering a “licence to smoke”. But more research is needed to assess the full range of harms and benefits of lung screening. The Independent had this story.
  • Scientists in the US have created a comprehensive map of genes that tumour cells rely on to survive, as we reported. The project by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute aimed to produce a catalogue of genetic weaknesses in cancer – finding genes that tumour cells depend on to stay alive and grow.
  • We reported on a new stem cell-based cancer treatment that can target and kill breast cancer cells that have spread in mice. It’s early days and still needs to be shown to work in people, but we desperately need treatments for advanced cancer that has spread around the body.

Number of the week


The percentage of women in England who receive their cervical screening results on time

  • An in-depth analysis of medulloblastoma brain tumours has identified faulty genes underlying the disease, which researchers hope might be used to develop new, targeted treatments. Brain tumours are one of the areas where survival hasn’t improved as much as others, and so we’re pushing to change that. Check out our report for the story.
  • An early study has looked at using a blood test to detect tumour DNA in women with advanced stages of breast cancer. The ‘liquid biopsy’ aims to track breast cancer as it progresses and so let doctors give patients more personalised treatments, though larger studies will be needed to prove it works. The SunIndependentDaily Mail and Sky News reported on this story.
  • People who were overweight or obese as teenagers were more likely to get cancer later in life, reports the Mail Online. The study from Tel Aviv University found that carrying too much weight increased their risk for colon and rectal cancer. Overall, it’s still not known if teenage weight is directly linked to cancer risk, but avoiding weight gain as an adult reduces the risk of 13 types of cancer. Our website has tips on how to keep a heathy weight.
  • Is it time to offer dogs on prescription? Researchers at the universities of Cambridge and East Anglia looked at activity levels of older people, and found that regular dog walkers were overall more physically active than people who don’t own dogs, even throughout bad weather conditions. The Telegraph and Independent reported on this story, and you can check out our website for info on the benefits of staying active.
  • Immunotherapy is causing lots of excitement in cancer research, and scientists battling to find a cure for HIV are hoping to learn from its progress. BBC News reports that, while there are important differences in how the immune system responds to the two diseases, the parallels are worth exploring.

And finally…

  • A sunscreen that’s made from salmon sperm DNA could act like a ‘second skin’ to help protect against harmful UV rays, according to the Mail Online. US researchers say it works by the coating itself becoming damaged by the sun’s rays, instead of the skin below being harmed. But as we pointed out, it needs to be developed further and validated before we know whether it works to protect people in real life. For sun protection tips, check out our sun myths blog.