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News digest – ultra-processed food, liquid gel spacer, night shift work and how breast cancer spreads 

by Ethan Meyers | Analysis

1 June 2019

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A breast cancer cell.

First NHS patient treated with radiotherapy liquid gel spacer 

The NHS has rolled out a new ‘liquid gel spacer’ which helps reduce the side effects of radiotherapy. Radiotherapy treats prostate cancer but can cause side effects such as bleeding, diarrhoea and incontinence. The gel is injected in the space between the prostate and the rectum and reduces the amount of radiation absorbed by the delicate organs around the prostate. Read the BBC for the details. 

Growing evidence against ultra-processed food  

New research has added to the growing body of evidence that eating ultra-processed foods, like instant noodles, bacon and chicken nuggets, can have adverse effects on health. The link between processed meat and cancer is well established but evidence surrounding the effect of other types of processed foods is less clear cut. These types of food have previously been linked with cancer, but we know regularly eating a lot of them can increase body weight, making it difficult to untangle the effects of diet and weight. This latest study, covered by a range of outlets including BBC, The Telegraph and ITV, reports that ultra-processed foods are linked to early death but did not find a link with cancer deaths. 

Promising results for prostate cancer follow up care trial  

A new way to reduce the time it takes for a patient to be diagnosed with prostate cancer has produced promising trial results. The method allows men to view the results of their blood test online, as soon as they are uploaded by the lab. The intention is that it could remove the need for some routine appointments and, according to The Expresscould reduce waiting times. But first, further research is needed to assess the longterm impact and cost-effectiveness of this self-management tool.

New insight on how breast cancer spreads  

Research that was only possible thanks to the generosity of those who donated their bodies after death has unveiled some extraordinary findings on the spread of breast cancer. Rather than spreading around the body in a continuous process, cancer spread seems to happen in waves. The New Scientist reports this finding, that is opening up new areas of research for the treatment of advanced cancer such as what triggers these waves and whether they can be paused. For more on this fascinating and hopeful research, check out our blog post. 

Breast cancer returning prediction tool could benefit NHS patients 

The Times covered the development of a prediction tool, which relies on four pieces of information gathered during surgery, to estimate the likelihood of breast cancer returning. Tumour size, patient age, the number of lymph nodes affected and the cancer cell type was used to give an image of how quickly the breast cancer grew and how likely it is to come back. The algorithm was able categorise a group of 2428 female breast cancer patients into three clear risk groups – high, medium and low. Experts suggest it could help stop some low risk patients being overtreated.   

No link found between night shift work and breast cancer 

A study of around 100,000 women concluded that those who had reported working night shifts over a 10 year period were no more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than women who had not worked night shifts in the same period of time. This adds to the evidence that night shift work is unlikely to affect breast cancer risk. The Guardian and Independent looked at this study. For a breakdown of the matter, check NHS behind the headlines.

This is what it’s like to work as a cancer researcher 

iNews speaks to a young Cancer Research UK researcher who is trying to find out why immunotherapy helps some people but not in others.  

And finally  

It’s every cancer scientists favourite time of the year! The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is hosting its annual conference this weekend. Thousands of cancer experts are flocking to Chicago to present their work, with the press listening intently. Often this is a space for scientists to share preliminary results, meaning that it has yet to go through a peer reviewed journal. Even though the research is potentially exciting, media outlets may not always make the stage of the research clear. Our blog post helps you keep the work from ASCO in context and our animation gives you some top tips for evaluating a cancer news story.

We’ll be covering the latest cancer news to come out from the conference this weekend, so watch this space.