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News digest – childhood obesity, sugar and cancer confusion, personalised cell therapy and… robots?

by Justine Alford | Analysis

21 October 2017

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  • The BBC launched a ‘health tracker’ that allows you to check the performance of your local NHS hospital against three waiting time targets, including one for cancer. The results paint a worrying picture for cancer care across the country, which is why we’re running a campaign to tell Jeremy Hunt that NHS staff shortages are affecting cancer diagnostic services – join the campaign here.
  • In a bid to help tackle expanding waistlines, NHS England is stepping up action to combat ‘supersized’ and calorie-laden foods, banning large confectionary items and sharing bags from being sold in hospitals. These measures are one step towards helping make healthier food an easier option for hospital staff, patients and visitors, reported the BBC and Guardian.
  • And it’s not just hospitals that need to take action: the number of children who are obese when they start primary school is continuing to rise, reported The Telegraph and Guardian. New NHS figures have shown that close to 10% of kids entering primary school between 2016 and 2017 were obese. We’ve blogged about the issue before and the actions needed to tackle childhood obesity.
  • Big news for the world of immunotherapy this week as the US Food and Drug Administration approved a second engineered immune cell treatment called CAR T cell therapy. Used to treat a type of non Hodgkin lymphoma, it joins another similar treatment approved in August for a form of leukaemia. STAT News and Quartz have the details.
  • More on the subject of personalised treatment: a small clinical trial has, for the first time, used the characteristics of patients’ tumours to make therapy choices in people with rare cancers. Our news report explains why we need more trials such as this for patients with these diseases.

Number of the week


The average number of DNA mistakes needed to turn a cell cancerous, according to new research.

  • New research has suggested the Government’s sugary drinks tax could have a positive effect when it comes into force next year. The study shows that Jamie Oliver’s restaurant chain reported a drop in sales of sugar-sweetened beverages after introducing a 10p increase on those drinks, along with an explanation. The Guardian and others have more details on the findings.
  • Speaking of sugar, misleading stories surfaced this week suggesting that scientists have cracked how sugar makes tumours more aggressive. While adding to researchers’ understanding of how cancer cells use sugar to fuel their growth, the study looked at yeast and human cells in the lab, not sugar in patients’ diets. Our blog post has all you need to know about sugar and cancer.
  • The NHS caused a stir this week with plans to prevent certain patients in Hertfordshire from having surgery unless they lose weight or quit smoking, in order to free up an overstretched NHS. Read The Times and Telegraph for the Royal College of Surgeons’ criticisms of the move.
  • A new UK study has tallied up the number of genetic mistakes in cells that are needed for cancer to develop, finding that fewer than 10 can turn a healthy cell cancerous. Our news report explains how this discovery could help the development of targeted drugs in the future, and here’s the BBC’s take.
  • Eye-grabbing headlines reporting that men who have given 5 or more partners oral sex have a higher risk of head and neck cancer may have caused fears this week. A new study looked at the links between risks of developing this cancer, smoking and infection with the human papillomavirus, which can be spread through oral sex. But the overall risk of men developing this cancer in their lifetime is still very low and, as we told The Sun, it’s more important to stop smoking and drink less booze to lower your cancer risk.
  • Showing many hands make light work, a collaboration created by Cancer Research UK may have found a way to target a key molecule in cancer thought to be ‘undruggable’. As our press release and PharmaTimes detail, this could lead to treatments that stop this faulty protein from fuelling cancer growth.

And finally

  • Could robots help improve breast cancer diagnosis? Despite The Express headline, that’s not quite what new research was suggesting. Using tissue samples and patient information, scientists trained a computer system to help pick out breast lumps that have a high risk of becoming cancerous. The hope is that such tech could reduce the number of women having unnecessary surgery. But at the moment, it’s not clear whether this method is better at spotting high risk lesions than existing techniques.