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News digest – NHS staff shortages, proton beam therapy, UV-detecting device and… stinging nettles?

by Gabriella Beer | Analysis

13 January 2018

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Cancer patients shouldn’t be harmed by NHS staff shortages
  • A leaked memo to staff at an NHS hospital in Oxford suggested delaying or reducing chemotherapy treatment for some cancer patients due to staff shortages. The BBC and Mail Online reported the story, and our Chief Executive, Sir Harpal Kumar, urged the Government to take immediate action and tackle staff shortages.
  • Around 7 in 10 people who try a cigarette become daily smokers, even if just briefly, according to research we and the BBC covered. The researchers said the findings reinforce the need to tackle cigarette experimentation and highlight how addictive smoking is, even at a first puff.
  • Even though an estimated 3.1 million people are taking on Dry January this year, results of a new survey suggest that only 1 in 10 people in the UK know that alcohol causes cancer. The Guardian reports that discussions are ongoing around putting warning labels on bottles of booze, highlighting the health risks.
  • There is no difference in survival between young women with breast cancer whose cells carry a faulty version of the BRCA gene and those whose cells don’t, according to our research. Our news report has the details, and the BBC and Mail Online also covered this.
  • The BBC announced that proton beam therapy could be available on the NHS as soon as August 2018. The Christie Hospital in Manchester will be the first NHS hospital to give certain cancer patients access to this type of radiotherapy. Read more about proton beam therapy in our blog post.
  • A study claims that women who work night shifts are more at risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who work during the day, reports the Mirror. But long term night shift work is hard to measure accurately. We need more high-quality studies to help us know whether there is a true link between working night shifts and breast cancer.
  • L’Oreal says a new device that changes colour when levels of UV rays get too high could be used to tell people when to reapply sunscreen. The patch, that sticks thumbnails, links to a smartphone but – as we told the Sun – may not work on different skin types and could mean people use sunscreen to stay out in the sun longer, rather than as a last resort when shade and clothing aren’t an option.
  • In a bid to tackle staff obesity, an NHS hospital in Manchester has been the first to ban sugar from its canteen. The Guardian and Express report that all sweet treats and fizzy drinks have been taken off the menu, which now offers healthy alternatives like porridge and fruit salad.
  • We answered 2017’s most Googled health question for HuffPost.
  • The Telegraph reports on a study looking at how a panel of gene changes could be used to predict if a man has a raised risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer. The potential test is still in the development stages, and would need to be tested in large clinical trials before we’ll know whether it’s effective or not.
  • The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has said women with breast cancer should not be given tests that help predict whether or not they will respond to chemotherapy. According to The Sun, NICE said there wasn’t enough evidence that these tests were cost-effective.

And finally

  • Can stinging nettles cure cancer? The short answer is no, despite what the Express claims. Instead, new research has found that an experimental treatment, which is ‘switched on’ by a certain molecule also found in the leaves of nettles, can kill cancer cells in the lab. It’s fascinating research looking to use advanced chemistry to target lab-grown cancer cells. But a lot more needs to be done before we can talk about the potential for this approach to reduce side effects of chemotherapy or tackle resistance to treatments.