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The Newsstand – April 2018

The Newsstand - our hand-picked highlights of the best cancer research stories

Are you worried about the wrong things?

There are some things that we know for sure cause cancer - ageing, smoking, weight, too much sun exposure and genetics, to name a few. There are also things that we think might increase your risk of cancer, but more research is needed to confirm by how much and which groups of people might be most affected. And then there are the things that people believe will give you cancer, but for which we have no evidence for. Alarmingly, according to a new study, significant numbers of people are worrying unnecessarily about these “mythical” risks, while potentially ignoring the real ones.

The biggest misunderstanding (40% of people) was that stress could increase your risk of cancer, followed closely by food additives and electromagnetism. Other high scorers from the research included genetically modified foods, living near power lines, mobile phones and drinking from plastic bottles, all for which there is no robust evidence to support as a cause of cancer. Most surprising, however, was that 14% of people still did not agree that smoking was a cause of cancer – even though we know that smoking causes more than 80% of all lung cancer deaths. The full research and details about peoples’ other misplaced fears can be read here.

Human cancer drugs might save the Tasmanian devil

The Tasmanian devil is an endangered marsupial with numbers in the wild dwindling to around 15,000. One cause of the severe decline in their numbers has been the emergence of a contagious facial tumour that, as it develops, interferes with feeding and leads to starvation and death of the animal. But scientists may have found new hope from the array of human cancer drugs that have been developed. Analysis of these facial tumours revealed that they contain a particular protein, which is also used as a target for several anti-cancer drugs. Testing would still need to be done to see if these drugs could actually treat Tasmanian devils with facial tumours, but it does offer some hope as a potential conservation aid. The full research can be read here.

UK wants game-changing immunotherapy available to patients on the NHS

The immunotherapy known as CAR-T therapy (read more about how this works here) has been extraordinarily successful in the US, where it has been used to treat several hundred cancer patients. The downside of this treatment, which involves extracting white blood cells from the patient, genetically engineering them in the lab to seek and destroy cancer cells, before transplanting them back into the patient, is that it is incredibly expensive. Over £340,000 per patient in fact, which is way above the budgetary allowance of the NHS. But the Chief Executive of the NHS, Simon Stevens, has stepped in, saying that this type of technology is one that the NHS must embrace. His challenge now will be to work with the pharmaceutical industry to get the cost of CAR-T therapy down to something that could work for the NHS.

Simon Stevens told the Guardian: “The NHS has a proud history of delivering pioneering treatments. As we celebrate the 70th anniversary, the NHS is working harder than ever to save lives and improve care by embracing cutting edge technology like CAR-T therapy and spreading innovation across the whole health service.”

“However, we can’t do this alone, and we need the help of the manufacturers to ensure we can get these treatments to patients as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.”

Landmark project writes new chapter in cancer genetics

Cancer is defined by where in the body the disease emerges – breast, bowel, lung, brain etc. But new research suggests we may need to re-think how we diagnose patients. An international collaboration of researchers involved in The Cancer Genome Atlas have painstakingly analysed the genetic code of more than 10,000 patients, across 33 different types of cancer. Their analysis revealed that tumours originating from different parts of the body, which are normally treated as separate diseases, have genetic similarities that could make them vulnerable to the same treatment. This could really open up the number of patients that could be given experimental drugs in clinical trials. An overview of The Cancer Genome Atlas findings and the original research are available here.

UK government pumps £75 million into advancing prostate cancer research

Earlier this month is was announced that £75 million would be put into the research arm that works with the NHS in the UK to help recruit 40,000 men to take part in clinical studies of prostate cancer. The recruited men will take part in any of 60 studies that will be set up to test new treatments and interventions that aim to cut the number of deaths from prostate cancer. Prostate cancer kills more than 11,000 men each year and recently overtook breast cancer as the third leading cause of cancer death in the UK.

Top image credit: rob zand - Flickr

Science Communications Manager

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