Skip to main content

Together we are beating cancer

Donate now
  • Science & Technology
  • Health & Medicine

News digest – artificial intelligence, e-cigarettes, cancer screening and animal ‘avatars’

by Katie Roberts | Analysis

25 May 2019

0 comments 0 comments

Lung cancer CT scan
3,000 to 4,000 cancer deaths a year could be prevented by lung cancer CT screening programmes, beyond current lung health checks, writes Professor Charles Swanton.

Detecting lung cancer using artificial intelligence

A study found computers could detect tiny lung cancers on scans, after researchers in the US teamed up with Google to develop new software. The team found that the AI approach was as good or better than specialist doctors at detecting early stage tumours on CT scans. But it’s not the first time scientists have used AI to analyse cancer scans, and it’s definitely not ready for routine use yet. The New York Times has the latest research and some fascinating insights into the role AI could play in the future.

Outdated IT systems are wreaking havoc on screening programmes

That’s one of the findings of a screening review led by Professor Sir Mike Richards released this week. Richards was tasked with reviewing UK cancer screening services last year and an interim report highlights issues with NHS IT systems that make it difficult to monitor and maintain the quality of cancer screening programmes. Richards also recommends providing online booking, out of hours appointments and text reminders to help boost the number of people taking up the offer of screening. The full report is expected later this year.

Growing evidence for stop smoking benefits of e cigs

The evidence that e-cigarettes can help people who smoke to quit is building. Earlier this year a trial found e-cigarettes were almost twice as effective for quitting smoking as other nicotine replacement therapies when both were combined with behavioural support. And new research involving almost 19,000 smokers in England has estimated that those using the devices are 95% more likely to quit than people who don’t. The Mail Online picked up the latest results, which also found that e-cigarettes were the second most popular stop smoking method.

Give us more time with patients, say GPs

GP appointments last just 9.2 minutes on average in the UK, shorter than similar appointments in Sweden, Russia and Peru. And according to a report by the Royal College of GPs, this rapid turnover should become a “thing of the past”. Experts have said that appointments need to last at least 15 minutes for GPs to provide the best care, which would require extra money and more staff. The Times (£) and iNews have the story.

The findings come 2 weeks after BBC News reported the first sustained drop in GP numbers for 50 years, as we covered in our news weekly digest.

Royal College of Nursing calls for safe staffing levels

And in more NHS news, it was the Royal College of Nursing’s annual conference this week. The general secretary, Dame Donna Kinnair, used the opportunity to call for laws to protect NHS staff in England, saying politicians were abusing the good will of nurses. BBC News reported that 1 in 9 NHS nurse posts are vacant, with these figures predicted to rise. The speech comes 2 weeks after news that Brexit is making the NHS nurse crisis worse, which you can read in our weekly digest.

The challenge of making microbiome therapies

Everyone seems to be talking about gut bacteria these days. This exciting area of research is asking big questions of the role of the gut microbiome in health, with scientists testing if the bacteria in our gut could help treat cancer. But what would it take to make such a treatment? STAT News (£) takes a fascinating look at the complex world of manufacturing bacteria. Well worth a read if you have a subscription.

Protecting UK clinical research after Brexit

Brexit was top of the agenda this week as the European elections kicked off. And protecting clinical research featured as a talking point for some. Conservative MP Chris Green wrote for Politics Home that collaborating with other countries has “become an essential part of running successful clinical trials.” The sentiment was echoed by our director of clinical research in his letter to The Times (£).

Poor diet linked to cancer in US study

US researchers have linked 80,110 new cancer cases among adults in 2015 to eating a poor diet. That’s around 1 in 20 cancer diagnoses in the US that year, a similar figure to previous studies. CNN has this one.

A unique view of oesophageal cancer surgery

Explore the inside of an operating theatre and watch an oesophageal cancer operation with our new 360-degree video. It’s a fascinating look at cancer surgery, but perhaps not one to watch over lunch. The video was used to highlight new research into oesophageal cancer, as BBC News explains.

Pharma companies accused of collusion

Four drug manufacturers have been accused of driving up the price of an anti-nausea tablet, costing the NHS millions. The drug is prescribed to some cancer patients to help with the side effects of chemotherapy and used to cost £6.49. But the Competition and Markets Authority announced today that four suppliers agreed not to compete over the cost, driving the price up to £51.68. One of the companies has denied the claim, as BBC News explains.

And finally

A challenge for scientists everywhere has been to replicate the extreme complexity of cancer in the lab. This multiples when trying to know how each patient’s tumour, with its unique set of DNA faults, will respond to treatment. To help unravel this complexity, scientists are turning to specially created animal ‘avatars’. A patient’s individual cancer can be grown in these ‘avatars’, or animals can be engineered to develop certain cancers, to help researchers test how the tumour responds to different treatments. New Scientist took a whistle-stop tour of animal avatars this week, speaking to the scientists using fruit flies to test cancer treatments.