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News digest – NHS waiting times, childhood obesity, golden drugs, and… at-home genetic tests?

by Michael Walsh | Analysis

12 August 2017

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  • New NHS figures have shown that some cancer patients are waiting too long for urgent referral appointments and treatment. The Guardian and BBC were among those who covered this.
  • The Mail Online looked at cutting edge developments in prostate cancer treatment, including results from our STAMPEDE trial. They spoke to the trial’s chief investigator, Professor Nicholas James, who said the results showed that giving “a combination of a new hormone-therapy drug in addition to standard treatment to newly diagnosed men reduced deaths by 37 per cent.”
  • From 2019-20 NHS Scotland will switch the order of tests completed as part of cervical screening, with a test for human papilloma virus (HPV) being done first. This switch was announced by NHS England last year, but has yet to be implemented. As the BBC said, HPV infection doesn’t always cause cancer, but the virus causes almost all cases of cervical cancer.
  • A Welsh politician claimed that stopping giving free painkillers on the NHS could help fund offering the HPV vaccine to boys as well as girls in Wales. Angela Burns, the Conservative shadow health secretary, made the suggestion a month after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation published its draft recommendation against extending vaccination to boys. BBC Wales had this one.

Number of the week


The tonnes of sugar in products bought each day in Scotland

  • A small glass of wine or half a pint of beer a day could slightly increase the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer, and the more people drank the higher the risk, according to this Mirror report on new research. Drinking alcohol can increase the risk of 7 types of cancer, though the evidence for skin cancer isn’t as clear, and this latest study doesn’t change that. This in depth analysis from NHS Choices has all you need to know.
  • Good news: the chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) drug venetoclax (Venclexta) has been approved for routine use in Scotland. We’re also funding a trial to find out how well it works in combination with another drug, ibrutinib (Imbruvica). The Scotsman reported on this story.
  • And three quarters of the drugs previously only available via the Cancer Drugs Fund are now approved routine use on the NHS. We reported on the green light given to a drug for advanced liver cancer, which takes the total of approved drugs to 18 out of 24.
  • The BBC reported that UK women from South Asian backgrounds who have cancer may hide it because of a perceived stigma about the disease. The report says that not seeking help when they first noticed symptoms has meant that some deaths occurred that shouldn’t have, and not sharing the news of a diagnosis with family and friends means these women could have a lack of support.
  • TV chef Jamie Oliver spoke to the Sunday Times about his disappointment over the soon-to-be one-year-old childhood obesity strategy being watered down from the version he pushed for. We said when it was published that the strategy didn’t go far enough, and so much more needs to be done to tackle obesity in children and adults, as being overweight increases the risk of 13 types of cancer. The Independent also reported his use of colourful language.
  • The scale of the obesity problem was underlined by figures we released showing that people in Scotland are stocking up on products containing 110 tonnes of sugar a day. We’re calling on the Scottish Government to restrict supermarket multi-buy offers and promotions on unhealthy food to reduce the risk of obesity related cancers. The Herald and The Scotsman covered this story.
  • Our scientists at the University of Edinburgh found that tiny gold nanoparticles can increase the effectiveness of lung cancer drugs in the lab. The team is working with zebrafish for now, but they hope that the findings can be turned in to a useful treatment approach in people too. The Independent reported on this story.
  • A blood test that detects signs of a viral infection could help spot nasopharyngeal cancer earlier in a certain group of Chinese men, according to news research. STAT News asks if this type of ‘liquid biopsy’ could help save lives.

Find out how blood tests can be used to help scientists track cancer. 

And finally

  • Can at-home genetic testing kits really tell you much about your risk of disease or ancestry? The Conversation says probably not. We’ve blogged about these tests before and what the results might be able to tell you about your health.