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News digest – cancer blood test, brain tumour vaccine, smoking, and how to predict a tumour’s future

by Gabriella Beer | Analysis

1 June 2018

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‘Simple blood test’ still not the finished article

Blood tests to detect cancer regularly make the headlines, and an accurate test would be great news for patients. But, in reality, they’re rarely close to being widely used. The latest blood test story came from unpublished work presented at the large ASCO conference taking place in Chicago. Despite the headlines, the “holy grail” of cancer treatment is still some way off. The test was used on patients who had already been diagnosed. But didn’t pick up every cancer. And it was better at picking up some cancers types than others. Bigger studies are now needed to see if this blood test can pick up cancer before a person has symptoms, and ultimately if this can help save lives.

Vaccine against glioblastoma makes progress

Early results from a long-running study showed that brain tumour patients given a vaccine lived on average more than twice as long as those on standard treatment. The Guardian reports on the experimental vaccine that has been engineered to attack glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain tumour.

Wales to ban smoking outside schools and hospitals

Wales has announced plans to become the first country in the UK to ban smoking outside schools and hospitals. The Express and The Sun report that the Welsh government hopes to extend the smoking ban by next summer, and will include playgrounds.

Smoking rates fall worldwide

More on smoking as The World Health Organisation released new figures showing the global pattern of smoking. The Telegraph points out that even though smoking rates declined globally overall, the number of smokers in poorer countries is rising.

MPs call for tax on unhealthy foods 

The Telegraph and The Sun report calls from MPs to tax unhealthy foods as another attempt to tackle the obesity crisis. They also suggested that the sugar tax should be extended to chocolate and puddings.

Tracking cancer’s past to predict its future

Our scientists have used computers and genetic data to piece together a cancer’s history. According to The Times (£), this could help researchers develop a way to predict the next steps that a tumour will take as it progresses. We talk to the scientists involved in the study in this blog post.

Can we teach an AI machine to recognise skin cancer?

Using more than 100,000 images, researchers have taught a computer how to recognise melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer, reports The Sun. The programme could one-day have the potential to help doctors diagnose skin cancer, but we need further studies to know if this technology could help accurately diagnose patients.

Antifungal treatment kills sleeping bowel cancer cells in mice

A common antifungal treatment for infected toenails has been shown to get rid of sleeping bowel cancer cells in the gut of mice, according to the Independent. Our researchers found that, as well as killing ‘active’ bowel cancer cells, it also hit those that lie in a dormant state. These cells can be responsible for the tumour coming back, and can be missed by some treatments. Read our press release for more.

Ovarian cancer drug approved for NHS use

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has said the ovarian cancer drug niraparib can be made available to some women on the NHS in England and Wales. The Guardian reports that up to 850 women could benefit.

Everyday changes could avoid thousands of cancers a year

Around 500 cases of cancer in UK women could be prevented each week by keeping a healthy weight, eating more fibre and increasing exercise, reports The Sun and Mail Online. Our press release has the details.

And finally

One of the largest cancer conferences, the ASCO annual meeting, is taking place in Chicago. It’s where researchers gather to discuss their latest findings, with lots of stories making the papers. We’ll be covering the latest from the conference on our blog, and you can check out this post for a few tips to help you judge a story for yourself.