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News digest – clinical trials, bowel cancer screening, coffee and cancer, and more

Posted May 26 2012 12:00am
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Catch up on the cancer news

  • Sunday was International Clinical Trials Day. To mark the occasion, Gareth Griffiths, Scientific Director of our Wales Cancer Trials Unit, wrote us an article about the world-class clinical trials being carried out there. Nearly one in five cancer patients in the UK now take part in clinical trials – the highest proportion in the world – and their involvement is shaping the new treatments of the future.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy – a bowel cancer screening test we helped develop, and which is soon to be introduced in England – reduces the number of new cases and deaths from the disease, a US study confirmed on Tuesday ( here’s our news story ). But it will be a few years before the test is widely available. We need the Department of Health in England to ensure this technique is rolled out quickly and effectively, and that each of the devolved nations to pledge to use ‘flexi-scope’ in their screening programmes.
  • Improving cancer symptom awareness among men with mental illness, and their doctors and carers, could result in improved mortality rates, according to a new study published on Wednesday ( press release ). The study also showed that those with psychiatric illness are likely to be older when they are diagnosed with cancer – possibly indicating a delay in diagnosis.
  • Also on Wednesday, US scientists published research showing that an abandoned sleep disorder drug can target a cancer protein in mice that was previously considered ‘undruggable’ ( here’s our news story ). More work is needed to see if this lab research can be translated into the clinic, but the idea that medicines that don’t have a current clinical use could be developed to treat cancer is interesting.
  • And on Friday, other US researchers showed that an anti-psychotic drug called thioridazine can transform so called ‘cancer stem cells’ into non-cancerous cells that no longer divide ( news story here ). This is early stage lab work, so it’s too early to say whether thioridazine could be used to treat cancer patients. More broadly though, this work represents just one of several strategies researchers are using to try to kill off cancer stem cells, which are thought to fuel the growth of many tumours.
  • We promised in the last news digest  that we’d share some news about interesting advances in breast cancer genetics. Henry kept that promise, and in this blog post talks to some of our experts about some fascinating research from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, who’ve used facial recognition software to look for ‘thunderstorms’ in cancer’s DNA.
  • We also spotted this story  about similar exciting research into prostate cancer genetics. US researchers used powerful next-generation DNA sequencing machines to uncover a distinct subtype of the disease, one that could account for up to 15 percent of all cases. We expect to see many more of these types of these in-depth genetic studies of cancer over the coming months and years.
  • And, sticking with smoking, new data from the NHS Information Service showed how one in eight pregnant women in the UK still smoke, and how this stat varies around the country. ( Here’s the BBC story .) This underlines how much work we still have to do on smoking rates, despite how far we’ve come. The next big priority is plain tobacco packets – sign our petition to help make this a reality.
  • The risks and benefits of HRT were again the topic of several media stories this week. Women wanting to know more about the issue this can find detailed information about the current scientific evidence on our CancerHelp UK website .

And finally…

  • This NHS Choices article about media headlines on snoring and cancer is well worth reading. The long and short of it is that the research on ‘sleep disordered breathing’ and cancer death is certainly interesting, but not without some major limitations. Much more research is needed before any firm conclusions can be made about the affects of snoring on cancer risk – so, any snorers out there: don’t worry.

That’s all for this week – the ASCO cancer conference in the US is looming into view, which is often a busy time for cancer news. More soon!

Olly

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