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News digest – NHS announcements, the Budget, experimental treatments and… alcoholic jelly?

by Justine Alford | Analysis

25 November 2017

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  • A series of NHS announcements hit the news this week, starting off with new commitments to diagnosing cancer earlier. Our blog post and The Telegraph cover the new plans, which include a renewed pledge for a new bowel screening test and extended pilots of car park CT scans for those at high risk of lung cancer.
  • Next up was the eagerly-anticipated Budget, in which the Chancellor promised the NHS £350 million for the coming winter, followed by injection of £1.6 billion next year. But as the BBC and Guardian reported, experts have warned that this commitment falls far short of what’s needed for the country’s healthcare demands.
  • Elsewhere in the Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond showcased the UK’s commitment to keeping at the forefront of research, announcing a significant boost to research investment over the next four years. BBC News has more on this one.
  • The Daily Mail and Express reported on an experimental immunotherapy that’s reportedly being developed in mice at King’s College London. The news wasn’t tied to any published research, but said the approach would involve giving patients a particular type of immune cell sourced from blood banks and boosted in the lab. It’s a long way from the talk of cures that featured in many headlines.
  • An experimental treatment for patients with head and neck cancers will soon be tested in patients in a trial coordinated by our Clinical Trials Unit in Birmingham. Lab studies have shown the drug can boost the effectiveness of certain chemotherapy drugs and radiotherapy, so the study is seeing how it works in combination with these treatments. Our press release has more.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could be common among cancer patients, research from Malaysia suggests. According to the work, 1 in 5 patients could experience the condition, and around a third still had PTSD four years after diagnosis. BBC News covered the study.
  • Public awareness of the link between obesity and cancer is worryingly low in the UK, according to our recently published research picked up by PharmaTimes. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of 13 types of cancer, but this study found that only 1 in 4 people who completed a survey identified this as a risk factor.
  • More on the subject, unpublished Swedish research covered by the BBC and Mail Online found that breast tumours picked up during or between mammograms in overweight or obese women tend to be large. But as we told the BBC, it’s not clear whether women with a high BMI could benefit from more frequent breast screening in the UK.
  • Smoking causes at least 14 types of cancer, but it’s still unclear whether smoking also causes breast cancer. A new study found that the risk of this disease is 14% higher in women who have ever smoked, with the risk increasing the longer you smoke for. But this relationship wasn’t found in those who’d never drunk alcohol, so it’s difficult to untangle the potential overlap between these two factors. Forbes has the details.
  • A report from Macmillan Cancer Support found that people in the poorest areas of London aren’t getting the same standard of cancer care as the rest of England. The results, covered by BBC News, also showed black, Asian and ethnic minority patients had worse care than white people in London.
  • The decision on whether the NHS should fund an effective hormone therapy as an upfront treatment for some men with prostate cancer won’t happen until autumn next year, the Telegraph reports. This news follows on from an earlier declaration this week by the European Medicines Agency that the drug is safe.
  • Bacteria found in certain bowel cancers can also be found inside a small number of tumours that have spread to another part of the body, says new research. We covered the study, which also showed the bacteria helped bowel cancer cells grow in mice.

And finally

  • Not quite vodka jelly, but scientists are working on mixing alcohol (ethanol, to be precise) into a jelly-like substance as a potential treatment for cancer, reports the Mail Online. Scientists have already used ethanol as a treatment for some cancers, which involves injecting the alcohol into tumours to kill the cancer cells. But the researchers hope that by making it more gelatinous, the treatment could become more effective by preventing it from leaking out from the tumour. But it’s early stage research that hasn’t left the lab, so we don’t yet know if it’ll be safe or effective in people.