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News digest – lung cancer genomes, breast screening, DNA tags to predict melanoma, and more

Posted Sep 15 2012 12:00am
  • The week’s big news was the publication of three important papers looking at the genes involved in lung cancer in unprecedented detail. We covered the story on our newsfeed , but Nature’s news team also had a good take on it .
  • Researchers in America showed that the DNA in the cells of our skin can hold vital warning signs of the most dangerous form of skin cancer, melanoma ( read our full news story here ). They showed a missing chemical tag on the DNA is a clear sign of the cells becoming cancerous, which could lead to better ways to detect and treat skin cancers in future.
  • Developing treatments that target a protein called TGF-beta could help around one in ten women with breast cancer, according to our researchers in Cambridge. The revelation comes from the team behind our landmark METABRIC study , which redefined breast cancer as ten different diseases. The Express covered the story  ( here’s our press release ).
  • The benefits of breast screening could outweigh the possible harms, according to a new European report covered by the BBC this week . But it’s important to point out that a more comprehensive independent review of the UK breast screening programme is happening at the moment, and is due to report before the end of the year. The independent panel is taking account of all relevant views, studies and evidence, and the review should give useful information on the relative harms and benefits of breast screening.
  • More on breast cancer – a study published in our journal, the British Journal of Cancer, suggests that post-menopausal women with diabetes are at greater risk of breast cancer ( read the press release here ). Although interesting, it’s not clear if this link is a ‘cause and effect’ relationship between diabetes and breast cancer, or whether it’s simply due to both diseases being more common among overweight women.
  • On Monday we reported that a genetic link to Barrett’s oesophagus has been identified for the first time. This condition can lead to development of oesophageal cancer (cancer of the food pipe) and the finding is an exciting first step towards better understanding of why people are susceptible to the condition, and how we could better treat it to stop it becoming cancer.
  • We are pleased to see media support for the ‘Stoptober’ campaign ramping up as October approaches. ‘Stoptober’, a government campaign we’re backing, encourages smokers to quit en masse during October. Smoking, as we never tire of pointing out, is still the biggest single preventable cause of cancer .
  • The celebrity columns were full of coverage of the US’s glitzy Stand Up To Cancer event last week. The guests included A-list stars like Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks, Gwenyth Paltrow and Michael Douglas (who as you may know was personally affected by cancer). All the coverage helps to build excitement for the up-coming British version of the show , to be screened on Channel 4 in October.
  • On Thursday we spotted reports ( here in the Daily Mail and again in the Scotsman ) of how a high-fat diet during pregnancy increases the risk of unborn female rats developing breast cancer later in life. It’s not known if this holds true in humans.
  • We were frustrated to hear that vemurafenib – a ‘targeted’ drug for melanoma skin cancer – was ‘ too expensive’ for the Scottish NHS , echoing the decision of their counterparts at NICE. The drug can’t cure the disease, but can prolong life. As we said back in March, when the drug got its EU license, we urgently need to find a way to make targeted treatments such as vemurafenib available to patients who need them.  

And finally…

 



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