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News digest – aspirin, breast cancer blood test, Boris Johnson’s NHS plans and bowel cancer rates in young people 

by Katie Roberts | Analysis

3 August 2019

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A microscope image showing the lining of the bowel.
A microscope image showing the lining of the bowel.

Offer daily aspirin to people with Lynch syndrome to reduce bowel cancer risk, says NICE

Taking aspirin daily for more than 2 years could reduce bowel cancer risk in people with an inherited genetic condition, says the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in new draft guidance. People with Lynch syndrome have a much higher risk of developing bowel cancer than the general population and the NICE committee concluded that, in this group, the benefits were likely to outweigh the potential risks of long-term aspirin use. The Telegraph and our news report have the story.

Breast cancer blood test can detect relapse earlier than scans

A test that monitors the levels of tumour DNA circulating in the blood could help doctors to detect if someone’s breast cancer has come back before it’s visible on scans. The Independent covered the latest study results, which included 101 women with early-stage breast cancer. The researchers said the next step is to see if using the test can improve survival, by giving doctors the opportunity to alter treatment plans earlier than is possible right now.

Maintaining a healthy weight can help boost chances of surviving cancer

The link between being overweight or obese and developing cancer has been talked about a lot in recent weeks. But researchers in Sweden wanted to know if being overweight had an impact on how likely someone was to survive their cancer. They monitored over 47,000 women and found that those who had been overweight or obese were slightly less likely to survive their breast or bowel cancer than women who had maintained a healthy body mass index (BMI) throughout adulthood. Mail Online and The Times (£) has this one.

New Prime Minister promises NHS will receive the funds it was promised

In his first speech as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said he was “committed to making sure the NHS receives the funds that were promised”. This includes money for 20 hospital upgrades as well as making sure services are ready for the winter season. According to The Guardian, Johnson has also asked for proposals to cut waiting times. The Financial Times has the full story.

NHS confederation send Boris Johnson a health and social care “to-do” list

NHS organisations wrote to the new PM this week to tell him what should be top of the list of priorities for health and social care. This includes resolving questions around long-term NHS funding and making sure that patient care doesn’t suffer as a result of Brexit. But they named NHS staff shortages as the “biggest single challenge facing the health and care sector,” saying the crisis will require bold and decisive action from the Government, NHS England and NHS Improvement.

And they weren’t the only one. Our CEO, Michelle Mitchell, wrote why building an NHS workforce for the future should be the top health priority for the new Government.

UK science “will be the loser” in a no-deal Brexit

The chair of the Wellcome Trust, the UK’s largest charitable funder of scientific research, also had some words of advice for the new Prime Minister this week. Lady Eliza Manningham-Buller said Boris Johnson needs to make sure that the UK’s immigration policy was “more welcoming” to scientists and said a no-deal Brexit was a threat to the thriving science community in the UK, as BBC News reports.

Senior doctors have also written to Johnson asking for “urgent clarification” on the Government’s plans to supply cancer treatments following a no-deal, according to BBC News.

Research centre to help scientists tackle cancer in a new way

This week we announced a £13 million virtual research centre, bringing together scientists from The Institute of Cancer Research, London and Imperial College London. The aim is to share expertise from a wide range of fields – including physics and engineering – to help “tackle research challenges from completely different angles.” Our press release and Times Higher Education (£) has the story.

Bowel cancer rates rising among younger adults in Canada

The trend, found using data from the national cancer registries in Canada, mirrors a similar increase seen in the US and the UK. Bowel cancer risk is still much lower in adults in their 20s and 30s, but figures show that the number of bowel cancer cases is on the rise in all 3 countries, as the New York Times reports. Scientists are working to explain this increase, as our blog post explains.

Scientists discover another way for cancer to hide

Cancer cells have many tricks they can use to hide from the immune system, protecting themselves from attack. And scientists in the US have discovered another ruse cancer can use to fool the immune system – putting “don’t eat me” signals on their surface. Healthy cells use these signals to stop themselves from being eaten by immune cells, but scientists also found the marker on cancer cells too.

Blocking the signal in mice with cancer helped to slow tumour growth, which is a promising first step. Researchers are now planning studies to understand who could benefit the most from the treatment, which will then need to be tested in clinical trials. The Independent has this one.

Scottish breast screening services to be reviewed

Scotland’s Public Health Minister has announced a review of the breast screening programme, saying services needed to adapt to meet the growing demand. The review is expected to last a year and will look at new technology and ways to increase the number of people taking part, reports BBC Scotland.

Stress in cervical cancer patients linked to higher risk of death

Researchers in Sweden have looked at the effect that depression, anxiety or going through a stressful life event can have on cervical cancer death in a study involving over 4,000 patients. They found that patients with stress-related conditions or those going through stressful life events were more likely to die of the disease than those who hadn’t reported stress. But what the study couldn’t unpick was why, and this type of study also can’t prove that stress directly causes earlier cancer death. ITV News has this one.

Dame Sally Davies on Desert Island Discs

Britain’s chief medical officer, due to step down at the end of this year, stopped by BBC Radio 4 to talk about her time in the role, being called ‘chief nanny’ and the importance of reducing obesity levels across the country. She said that making it easier for more people to buy healthier food was key, as the Mail Online reports.

And finally

Scientists have discovered that cutting out an amino acid primarily found in poultry, red meat and fish could slow tumour growth in mice. This led some papers to pose the question – can a vegan diet stop cancer? But as the Mail Online writes, it’s more complicated than that. And as the research only looked at diets in mice, experts concluded that it “has almost no implications for the treatment of cancer in humans.”