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News digest – obesity, drug decisions, NHS waiting times and a cancer killing virus

by Katie Roberts | Analysis

6 July 2019

1 comment 1 comment

Image of viral particles in human tissue.
Researchers are investigating whether modified viruses could help treat cancer.

Obesity responsible for more cases of some cancers than smoking

We released new figures showing that being overweight or obese tops smoking as the leading cause of 4 types of cancer, and it dominated headlines this week. The story was timed with our latest obesity campaign, which calls for the Government to act now to help protect children from junk food marketing and restrict promotional offers on unhealthy food and drinks.

The campaign sparked debate on social media and among some academics and nutritionists. Our CEO, Michelle Mitchell, responded: “Our focus is on raising awareness of the facts and paving the way for effective public health policy.”

Boris Johnson promises ‘sugar tax review’

In related news, Conservative leadership hopeful Boris Johnson sparked headlines when he vowed to examine if taxes on foods high in sugar, salt and fat are working. The ‘sugar tax’ was introduced in April 2018, but Johnson says he’s concerned the taxes unfairly target the less well off, according to BBC News. The move comes days before health secretary, Matt Hancock, is expected to recommend extending the sugar tax to milkshakes and a week before Conservative party members begin voting for their preferred leader, as The Guardian explains.

Skin cancer immunotherapy added to Cancer Drugs Fund

Some people with advanced skin cancer will now have access to a new immunotherapy on the NHS. This approval was particularly notable because it was made immediately after the drug got European approval, which means patients in England will be among the first in Europe to receive the treatment. Wales and Northern Ireland are likely to follow this decision, as our news report explains.

Double NICE decision for lung cancer drugs in England

The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has been busy this week, releasing two further cancer drug decisions – this time for targeted lung cancer treatments. Both drugs were being looked at for some adults with untreated, advanced lung cancer, but only one was approved for NHS use. The decisions are also likely to affect patients in Northern Ireland and Wales. Our news report and the Mail Online have the details.

Waiting times for cancer diagnosis in England revealed

And they paint a concerning picture. Data for lung and bowel cancers reveal huge variation in how long people wait for their diagnosis. Those who were urgently referred by their GP were diagnosed within 36 days on average in 2015, but this rose to 69 days for a routine GP referral. And 1 in 4 people waited at least 126 days for their diagnosis. The new figures from Cancer Research UK and Public Health England were covered by the Telegraph and our blog post, which highlights NHS staff shortages as one of the biggest barriers to diagnosing cancers earlier.

UK’s ‘biggest lung cancer study’ starts in London

25,000 adults with a history of smoking will be invited to take part in a study aiming to detect lung cancer earlier, reports the Evening Standard. The project, which made headlines back in December 2018, will invite people to have a phone interview followed by a breath test and CT scan if necessary, as well as blood tests. The project will also recruit 25,000 non-smokers aged between 50 and 77. The project is similar but separate to NHS ‘targeted lung health check’ pilots being rolled out across England, which we covered back in February.

More gene faults linked to prostate cancer risk

Scientists in London have homed in on more faulty genes that can slightly increase the risk of prostate cancer, according to this opinion piece in the Mirror. And four of these faults have been linked to developing more aggressive tumours. While talk of a quick DNA test is a bit premature, understanding more about how DNA faults are linked with prostate cancer risk, and what to do with the information, is a vital area of research. Check out our blog post for more on the future of prostate cancer diagnosis.

Brexit uncertainty ‘making research partners nervous’, says leading cancer scientist

The Guardian looked at how the threat of a no-deal Brexit could be affecting UK science, after analysis by University College London shows the number of European research collaborations led by top UK universities had dropped significantly since the referendum vote in 2016. Professor Pam Kearns, a Cancer Research UK-funded childhood cancer expert in Birmingham, said it would be “unacceptable” for the UK not to be a partner in a united approach to cancer research.

Lesbian, gay and bisexual women missing out on cervical screening, says NHS survey

Thousands could be missing out on screening because of a “dangerous myth” that lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) women are not at risk of cervical cancer, says NHS England. New survey results suggest nearly 1 in 5 LGB women have never attended cervical screening, despite the fact the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes most cervical cancers, can be passed on by close skin-to-skin contact regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Professor Anne Mackie, Public Health England’s director of screening encouraged “anyone with a cervix, between the ages of 25 and 64, to go for regular cervical screening.” Mail Online has this one.

People with cancer should be prescribed fitness plans, say charities

A group of charities have recommended that all newly diagnosed cancer patients be given personalised lifestyle guidance to help boost their resilience to treatment. The report by Macmillan Cancer Support and others comes off the back of a series of studies showing exercise can help reduce the chance of an early death, according to the Telegraph.

Scientists identify new protein involved in regulating cancer cell stress

Cancer cells find ways to deal with various stresses to survive, including the rapid production of proteins linked to a faulty gene called MYC. Scientists have tried for years to target this particular fault, with little success. Now researchers have identified a new player in the vital stress response, which could prove to be a new target for cancer drugs. It’s an exciting new piece of the puzzle, but the results are so far only in mice with lymphoma, meaning talk of it being the ‘Achilles heel’ of cancer is premature.

Cancer Research UK joins biotech investment fund

We’ve joined up with venture capital firm SV Health to create a £200 million investment fund focused on innovative cancer treatments. It’s the first time we’ve partnered with a venture capital firm and the plan is for at least 60% of the money to be invested in cancer research. The Financial Times (£) and Pharma Times covered the announcement.

And finally

Scientists have used a modified version of the common cold virus to infect and kill bladder cancer cells, reports BBC News. It’s still early days: the treatment has so far been tested in 15 patients with non-muscle invasive bladder cancer. But scientists found evidence that the treatment had targeted and killed cancer cells in tissue samples taken during surgery. The next step is to really put the treatment to the test in larger trials.



  • DocMills
    9 July 2019

    “Our focus is on raising awareness of the facts…”

    The research shows correlation not ‘facts’. For example, overweight people also exercise less. Please stop misrepresenting the science.


  • DocMills
    9 July 2019

    “Our focus is on raising awareness of the facts…”

    The research shows correlation not ‘facts’. For example, overweight people also exercise less. Please stop misrepresenting the science.