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News digest – HRT, body fat, chemo-killing bacteria and… tattoos?

by Gabriella Beer | Analysis

16 September 2017

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A cartoon of a bacterium.
  • Two studies show that targeted drugs and immunotherapy used for advanced melanomas could help people with earlier stage disease too. Both treatment options, an immunotherapy drug and a combination of targeted drugs, may reduce the risk that a person’s melanoma will come back after surgery. We covered this, as did the Mail Online and The Sun.
  • The Guardian covered a study that suggests that people who move every half an hour during long periods of sitting down have a lower risk of dying. This study wasn’t perfect though, and there are still questions to answer around how being sedentary might increase the risk of dying.
  • Scottish head and neck cancer patients will be the first in the UK to receive an immunotherapy treatment, called nivolumab (Opdivo), on the NHS, says the Scotsman. Evidence suggests that double the number of patients treated with the drug were still alive after one year, compared to those who had standard chemotherapy.

Number of the week


The estimated number of patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer, in Scotland, each year.

  • Hormone replacement therapy increases the risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer. But a misleading report from the Mail Online implied that HRT comes without risks. The study this report focused on suggested that women using HRT aren’t more likely to die from cancer than women who don’t use HRT, not that HRT doesn’t increase the risk of certain cancers. The study also didn’t take into account improvements in treatments for breast cancers or early diagnosis, which could both affect survival.
  • Where fat is found on a woman’s body may influence their cancer risk, according to a new Danish study presented at a conference last week. The Independent reports on the unpublished findings that women with ‘apple shaped’ figures were more likely to develop lung and bowel cancer.  For more information on how bodyweight can affect cancer risk, head here.
  • Oxford University scientists found that family doctors were almost twice as likely to offer stop smoking advice to people diagnosed with coronary heart disease than to lung cancer patients, according to the Telegraph. This is despite both being smoking-related conditions.
  • A type of bacteria has the potential to stop a particular type of chemotherapy from working, according to lab research covered by New Scientist. Researchers found the bacteria can destroy a cancer drug called gemcitabine used to treat lung, pancreatic and breast cancers in lab tests. Further research will be needed to see if these findings apply to more chemo drugs, and if the bacteria destroy the drugs in patients.

    And finally…

  • Getting ‘inked’ may give you cancer, according to the Mail Online. The misleading concerns are tied to a chemical called titanium dioxide, which is added to tattoo ink to create certain colours. Titanium dioxide has previously been linked to cancer in animals, but there’s no good evidence it causes cancer in people. So if you have a tattoo, don’t worry. This in-depth summary from NHS Choices, which called the Mail’s claims “entirely unsupported”, has everything you need to know.