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The Newsstand – March 2018

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

Scientists may have found another use for Viagra                                                                      

I have to admit, this was not something I thought I would be reading. The research shows a small dose of Viagra – the little blue pill created for erectile dysfunction –significantly reduced the development of colorectal cancer. In mice, at least. The researchers genetically engineered the mice to be more susceptible to the development of colon cancer and administered Viagra once a day in the drinking water of the “at-risk” mice. This preventative dose of Viagra was able to “reduce the amount of tumours in these animals by half”, according to the researchers. They are not entirely sure how this is happening but they seem convinced enough to start thinking about potentially trying Viagra in clinical trials involving people at high-risk of colon cancer. The research article can be read here.

DOI: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-17-026

Australia is on the verge of eradicating cervical cancer

If you ever needed proof that vaccines work (beyond the millions of lives already saved by vaccines against smallpox, diphtheria, whooping cough, measles and more) then this story should do it. New research this month revealed that thanks to Australia’s free HPV-vaccine program in schools, cervical cancer rates in women aged 18-24 dropped from 22.7% to 1.1% between 2005 and 2015. And the researchers predict that based on current trends, within 40 years the number of new cases of cervical cancer will drop to “just a few”. Amazing. Reporting of the research can be read here.

Experimental drug makes breast cancer much easier to treat

Tumours are pretty complex. They are not just a ball of cancer cells but are an ecosystem of cancer cells, normal structural cells and cells of the immune system, to name a few. Tumours also “communicate” with healthy nearby tissue to help them grow, spread and protect themselves from anti-cancer treatments. Now researchers in Sweden have found that if they disrupt the communication between breast cancer cells and cells in the nearby connective tissue of the breast, they can make tumours much more sensitive to treatment. Using an experimental drug in mice, they were able to show that they could make tumours previously untreatable with hormone therapy (such as tamoxifen), suddenly become highly responsive to treatment. The full research can be read here.

DOI: 10.1038/nm.4494

Can vitamin D protect against cancer?

Yes? No? We still don’t know is the answer. A new study out this month looked at the levels of vitamin D in blood taken from 30,000 middle-aged people across Japan during the early 1990s. The researchers followed these people for 16 years to assess who got cancer and who did not. After taking into account factors that can impact cancer risk such as age, sex, smoking status and family history of cancer, the researchers concluded that higher levels of vitamin D in the blood were linked to a lower risk of cancer overall.

However, there are serval limitation to this study including the fact that they only had one measurement of vitamin D levels in the participant’s blood taken back in the 1990s. Their data is also based on a restricted population (people living in Japan and who were visiting health centres). Other studies have shown a similar effect but the effect is usually quite modest.  Julia Newton-Bishop, Professor of Dermatology and vitamin D expert from the University of Leeds told the Guardian: “I suspect from this paper and from other papers that vitamin D does have an effect, but it is relatively modest and it is more about avoiding a low level than taking high levels.” The full research can be read here.

DOI: 10.1136/bmj.k671

Weight is causing the number of people with cancer to rise

Research shows that around one third of all cases of cancer are avoidable. And dietary and lifestyle choices play a big role. Smoking as a cause of cancer has declined thanks to public health initiatives and public awareness of the damage caused. But being overweight or obese is rising to fill the void. According to Cancer Research UK, excess weight now causes 6.3% of all cancer cases in the UK, up from 5.5% in 2011. There is a lot of research ongoing to unpick how excess weight and the presence of fat contributes to the development and progression of cancer. For example, research that our supporters have funded in Spain is trying to work out how fats in our diet might be helping cancer to spread around the body.

Image credit: rob zand - Flickr

Science Communications Manager

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