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News digest – robot surgery, cancer information, drug decisions and prebiotics

Lilly Matson
by Lilly Matson | Analysis

15 February 2020

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A group of surgeons

Lack of information for cancer patients due to NHS staff shortages  

At least 120,000 people a year are missing out on important information about their cancer, warns Macmillan Cancer Support. The charity blamed growing staff shortages for the lack of information, after a survey of over 70,000 people who have had cancer treatment in England found that more than 1 in 3 said the long-term side-effects of their treatment were not fully explained. BBC News has the full story.

Scientists identify new cell types that could develop into ovarian cancer   

Scientists have discovered 6 new cell types in the lining of the fallopian tubes, which have the potential to turn cancerous and develop into an ovarian tumour. Ovarian cancer is complex, and whilst these new findings may shed light on how the disease starts, headlines were quick to jump to the idea of a screening tool.

Doctors use robot to perform breast cancer surgery for the first time 

Doctors have successfully performed delicate surgical operations on breast cancer patients with the assistance of a robot, reports The Guardian. Eight breast cancer patients in the Netherlands received the complex robot-assisted procedure to alleviate a common side effect of breast cancer surgery, known as lymphedema. While the trial was too small to show if the surgery was more successful when a robot was assisting, it’s a successful step towards robot-assisted surgery, which researchers believe could help make delicate surgeries more precise. Also this week, BBC News reported on the first use of robotic surgery to assist in removing hard-to-reach head and neck cancer in Wales. 

Two skin cancer treatments made available for NHS Scotland 

Good news in Scotland as two new skin cancer treatments were amongst the latest cohort of drugs to be approved for NHS use. The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) confirmed that cemiplimab (Libtayo) will provide a new treatment option for advanced melanoma, while the immunotherapy drug encorafenib (Braftovi) will be used to treat some people with a type of non-melanoma skin cancer. Read our news report for more. 

Prebiotics stunted melanoma growth in mice 

Scientists found that feeding mice two prebiotics – mucin and inulin – could alter the bacteria in their gut and enhance their immune system. And it delayed the growth of melanoma in mice. But researchers warned that they have a lot more work to do, including testing the effects of prebiotics in more complex animal models, before they consider evaluating the impact of prebiotics in humans. The Mail Online has the story 

Massive consumer goods company vows to stop marketing ice cream to children 

Unilever, the firm which owns brands such as Twister, has announced some important changes to the way it advertises ice cream to children, reports BBC News. The company has made a global promise to stop using social media stars or celebrities “who primarily appeal” to children under 12 in their advertising campaigns, and to limit its use of cartoon characters to promote products. But there are already meant to be rules in place in the UK to limit some of these forms of marketing to under 16s, so it is unclear yet what changes we will see in this country. We’ve blogged before about the tricks used to advertise junk food to children. 

Study links numbers of sexual partners to cancer risk  

Women who’ve had 10 or more sexual partners in their lifetime are more likely to develop cancer, reports The Sun. The data comes from a survey of over 5,722 people in England, but the results should be taken with caution as the study had many limitations, as discussed in The Conversation, including failing to fully take into account key cancer risk factors, including smoking and weight.   

And finally…. 

A US survey has found that rates of skin cancer were highest amongst gay and bisexual men. But the difference was fairly small – in a group of 45,000 Americans skin cancer rates were 8.1% among gay men and 8.4% among bisexual men, compared with 6.7% in heterosexual men. Although the research was widely reported, the study did not collect information about risk factors for skin cancer, such as UV exposure.