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News digest – breast cancer survival, melanoma immunotherapy, red meat and cigarette warnings 

by Katie Roberts | Analysis

5 October 2019

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Melanoma cells
Melanoma cells

Record numbers beating breast cancer in the UK

A good news story for breast cancer awareness month, the death rate for women with breast cancer has dropped by 44% since its high in 1989. The dramatic fall has been put down advances in both diagnosis and treatment, including the impact of the national breast screening programme. The Guardian, Telegraph and our press release has more.

Immunotherapy drug for triple negative breast cancer gets initial ‘no’ for NHS use

The latest decision from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has been called “disappointing” by experts. The immunotherapy drug, which is used in combination with chemotherapy, would have been the first targeted treatment available for this group of patients. The decision will be reviewed in November, as ITV News and our news report explains.

Long-term benefits of immunotherapy for melanoma revealed

New trial results reveal that half of patients taking an immunotherapy combo are still alive 5 years after treatment. BBC News picked up the latest findings to be presented at a cancer conference, which have been described as an “extraordinary transformation” of how advanced melanoma is treated. The drug combo is already available on the NHS, having been approved in 2016 based on earlier results.

Gut bacteria could affect susceptibility to radiotherapy side effects

The delicate makeup of the bugs in our gut have been linked to many conditions, from multiple sclerosis and depression to colon cancer, which we’ve blogged about before. And now, researchers in the UK believe it could have help predict who will experience some side effects of radiotherapy treatment for prostate and womb cancers. Forbes has the full story.

New possibilities for targeted prostate cancer treatment revealed at cancer conference

Barcelona was filled with excited scientists this week, as trial results announced at a cancer conference hinted at a new way to treat prostate cancer. Olaparib works differently to other prostate cancer treatments, targeting particular genetic faults found in cancer cells. And while the drug only slowed the disease down for a few months in a subset of men with advanced prostate treatment, experts say the tailored treatment approach is “full of possibilities”. BBC News and CNN have the story.

Survey suggests printing warnings on individual cigarettes could help smokers quit

The messages, which include a counter of the “number of minutes lost” for every cigarette smoked, could be another way to make smoking less appealing, according to a survey of 2,000 Australian smokers. It’s not the first time this tactic has been explored, in 2017 researchers found that young people are less likely to try cigarettes with ‘smoking kills’ printed on them, as our press release explains. The Guardian has this one.

New meat and cancer study sparks debate

A meat debate has erupted in the media this week, after researchers said the risk for individuals who eat processed meat is small, and eating less doesn’t lower the risk very much. But experts have hit back at the conclusions drawn by the latest study, saying the researchers’ conclusions don’t consider the impact on a population level and that the claims “could be putting people at risk”. Read a summary of the evidence in our blog post.

Cancer survival won’t improve until NHS staff shortages are addressed, warn charities

Cancer Research UK and Macmillan have written to the Prime Minister to warn him of the potentially devastating impact of staff shortages. Right now, around 115,000 people in England are diagnosed too late to give them the best chance of survival. Mail Online has this one.

We spoke to Dawn Chaplin, a consultant radiographer, about what it’s like to work for a short-staffed and overstretched NHS.

Women with breast cancer should be offered genetic screening, say researchers

New results suggest that offering genetic testing to women diagnosed with breast could save hundreds of lives each year in the UK. BBC News picked up the research, which tested patients for 3 gene faults linked to cancer, including the BRCA gene mutations. Researchers said it could help doctors find ways to reduce further cancer risk.

250 million children predicted to be obese by 2030

New predictions reveal a quarter of a billion children and young adults aged 5-19 around the world could be obese by 2030, up from 150 million in 2019. The Guardian picked up the latest estimates from the World Obesity Federation.

PM announces multibillion-pound investment in hospital projects across England

The announcement, made at the start of the Conservative party conference and picked up by BBC News, include £2.7 billion to help rebuild 6 hospitals. While the cash injection was welcomed by NHS Providers, they said it wasn’t enough to make up for “a decade of capital squeeze”.

The news comes the same week as a damning report on the state of an NHS cancer hospital in London. The Guardian covered the findings, which revealed Mount Vernon crumbling buildings, out-of-date equipment and staff shortages could be putting patients at risk.

And finally

Discussions on e-cigarette safety have continued this week, with a US tobacco expert calling claims that cases of respiratory conditions linked to vaping were a purely American problem “silly” in a piece by the Observer. And research picked up by STAT News highlighted gaps in the theory that vaping-related lung disease are linked to inhaling oils from e-cigarettes, suggesting other mechanisms may be at play.

But John Britton, writing for The Times (£), argued that while e-cigarettes aren’t ‘safe’, they’re much less harmful than smoking, and we should ignore pressure to ban them. See our webpage for more information on this complex issue.