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News digest: Little Stars, health inequalities, exercise and cancer, and more

Posted Nov 17 2012 12:00am
  • There will be an estimated 33,000 long-term survivors of childhood cancer in the UK by the end of 2012, according to new figures we released this week ( press release here ). The report marks the launch of our annual Little Star awards , which recognises the bravery of children who have undergone cancer treatment.
  • Each year 5,600 patients are diagnosed with cancer at a late stage because of social and health inequalities, according to a new UK study published on Tuesday. Narrowing these inequalities could mean thousands of future patients would be diagnosed at an earlier stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful. Read more in our news story , and here’s the BBC’s take .
  • Smokers find it easier to quit if they receive motivational text or video messages, according to a review published on Wednesday. Read more in our news story . We always welcome new, effective ways to stop people smoking, as the habit remains the number one preventable cause of cancer worldwide and causes at least 14 types of cancer. And if you want to know more, the MRC’s Insight blog has this interview with Dr Cari Free, who ran one of the trials included in the review.
  • In other smoking news, we spotted this fascinating BBC feature about the ‘father of the modern cigarette’ James Buchanan Duke. It outlines the early developments that led to the global cigarette manufacturing industry. Regardless of who is to ‘blame’ for today’s tobacco industry, it’s interesting to see one expert quoted in the article saying that “the cigarette is the deadliest artefact in the history of human civilisation.”

  • We also spotted this provocative BBC headline – ‘ Should you need a licence to smoke? ’ It outlines Australian public health expert Professor Simon Chapman’s concept of a swipe-card licence that smokers would have to apply for in order to purchase tobacco products from shops. We’re focussing our efforts on stopping children from taking up the deadly habit, by lobbying the Government to remove branding from cigarette packets. You can read more about our campaign here .
  • Another review published on Wednesday showed that aerobic exercise can help alleviate fatigue during or following cancer treatment. As we say in our news story , it’s particularly encouraging that things like walking or cycling seems to be most effective. Here’s the Daily Mail’s coverage .
  • We welcomed news this week that the drug approval process in Scotland is under review. In a health system with limited resources, the SMC (the Scots’ equivalent of NICE) does an essential and difficult job well. But there have been concerns raised about patients’ ability to access effective medicines north of the border. There’s more detail in our news story .
  • England and India’s cricket teams squared up for the 1st Test match in Ahmedabad. Why are we mentioning cricket on a cancer blog? India’s batsman Yuvraj Singh recently completed treatment for a rare germ cell cancer in his chest, and is now back in the India team. Read his remarkable and inspirational story here .
  • New Scientist magazine had a short news piece  about some interesting research from last week’s NCRI Conference. It shows how targeting healthy cells around a patient’s tumour is a workable strategy in trying to control their disease. We’ll be taking an in-depth look at research on a tumour’s so-called ‘microenvironment’ over the coming weeks.
  • The National Cancer Institute in the US wrote this interesting article about a study of Ukrainian workers who were exposed to radiation while cleaning up the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident. The new study suggests that low-doses of ionizing radiation over extended periods of time (not just high doses, as previous research indicates) may raise the risk of a type of leukaemia called CLL.
  • We enjoyed this Wellcome Trust blog post about the importance of patient data in research, which was prompted by the launch of a public consultation on the proposed reforms to the NHS Constitution. The reforms are likely to clarify how patient data collected by the NHS will be used. Earlier this month, we and others wrote to The Times calling on the NHS and Government to work to raise public awareness of the benefits of sharing patient data and the safeguards that are in place to protect personal confidentiality.
  • In other NHS news, two hugely significant documents were published this week that could dramatically influence future cancer care in England. Why are they important? Read this blog post to find out .
  • This moving article in The Independent is a must-read, but also tough to get through if you’re going through similar experiences at the moment. In it, Helen Jamison eloquently talks about her mother’s death and the need for society to discuss and communicate openly about death and dying. Martin Ledwick, who runs our patient helpline, wrote this in response .
  • And in related news, patients with incurable cancers who do have such discussions, are less likely to be given aggressive treatments that are unlikely to substantially prolong their lives, according to new research. The Chicago Tribune has this excellent write-up .
  • A story that surfaces in the media every once in a while appeared again this week – the Telegraph wrote a feature on cancer-sniffing dogs . We sometimes get letters and enquiries on this subject, and this blog post from 2009 outlines our view on the evidence. Summary: dogs are unlikely to be a widespread practical solution to detecting cancer, but the idea of electronic ‘noses’ rather than those of our furry friends to detect chemicals given off cancer cells is a promising area of research.
  •  And on the topic of recurring themes, red wine is back in the headlines , this time for its supposed ability to ‘CURE’ prostate cancer. Except that’s not what the research actually showed, at all. In fact, the research looked at the effects of a chemical in grapes called resveratrol, which has some promising anti-cancer properties. But don’t turn up drunk to your radiotherapy, chaps – even if the chemical’s effect is confirmed, there’s unlikely to be enough resveratrol in red wine to have this effect. We wrote this post when similar headlines regarding breast cancer appeared last year – the message is basically still the same for men.
  • The Telegraph and the Express both carried alarming pieces this week, claiming that smacking children may increase their chances of cancer later in life. But a quick trawl of the excellent NHS Choices website finds a more balanced analysis of the research that prompted this headline. The study had many limitations which mean such sensationalist headlines are inaccurate and misplaced.


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