News from Around the Globe

Research is constant.  Every day we are learning more about how to fight cancer in all of its forms.  Here are the latest news articles from some of the leading cancer organizations.  Check back often to stay up to date.

news from around the world

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Stronger Than Cancer has shared these news articles for information purposes only.  It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

 

What makes a cancer test?

4 days 1 hour ago

Science blog

The earlier a cancer is picked up, the more likely a person is to survive. And if we can’t stop cancers starting, then detecting them before they cause trouble is the next best thing.

But detecting the almost undetectable comes with significant challenges as these tiny, newly formed cancers are hiding from scientists and doctors amongst a smokescreen of trillions of healthy cells.

Detecting the almost undetectable

To find cancer in the body, first you need something to look for.

A successful cancer test will be able to detect ‘red-flag’ molecules produced by the cancer, revealing its presence. And to pick up disease at a stage where it can be cured with treatment such as surgery, the cancer needs to be compact and contained. Unfortunately, in most cases, this means it’s small enough to lay low. So, to locate these tiny cancers and successfully pick up the small number of ‘red flag’ molecules they’re making, scientists have to get creative.

One type of test that’s seen a lot of investment are those looking for floating bits of cancer cell DNA in the blood.

Professor Paul Pharoah, from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, says “a very small part of the blood is made up of cell free DNA that’s come from all sorts of places in your body.” Cancer cells can also release DNA into the bloodstream when they die, which could be picked up by testing the blood. But it’s no mean feat.

“The proportion of DNA from cancer is even smaller and therefore your test has to be incredibly sensitive to look beyond all of these extra DNA pieces,” says Pharoah, adding that urine, poo and breath may also contain signs of cancer.

The secret to a good cancer test

A good cancer test needs to be suitable to use in entire populations of people who are likely healthy. If getting tested is a nasty experience, then no one is going to choose to do it.

“If you’re going to test people without symptoms, the test needs to be acceptable,” says Pharoah.

Sensitivity

A sensitive test picks out cancer when it’s there so fewer cancers are missed (false negatives).

Specificity

A specific test doesn’t pick up something else and say it’s cancer by mistake (false positives).

The sample that you’re looking for cancer in must also be readily available. “That could be blood, urine, faeces. Basically, anything that you can find evidence of cancer in and acquire easily.”

It also needs to be reliable, so it doesn’t lead doctors on a wild-goose chase.

“The test needs to be fairly sensitive, because you want it to be able to pick up most of the people who’ve got the cancer,” says Pharoah.

But you also need to be confident that the positive results are correct, so doctors don’t follow the wrong lines of investigation with too many people.

“It needs to be reasonably specific so that if the test is positive it’s not detecting all sorts of other conditions.”

Lastly, useful cancer tests must be cheap so it can be used on thousands of people without financially crippling healthcare providers.

Why haven’t more cancer tests been developed?

Despite Pharoah saying that a screening test “doesn’t have to be perfect” because it’s not designed to diagnose someone with cancer, but rather highlight those who may need more investigation, even getting to the stage where a test works fairly well is troublesome. As it turns out, finding the perfect ‘red flag’ or marker of cancer for the test to pick up is incredibly hard.

Pharoah says researchers have spent a considerable amount of time following promising but ultimately unsuccessful leads – molecules that at first seem to be a good indicator of cancer but, after more research, turn out to be unsuitable. Often this is because the molecules aren’t just made by the tumour, they’re also produced by healthy cells. Or they’re made in too small quantities for a cancer test to detect.

And once you’ve found a suitable cancer ‘red flag’, you need to make sure it’s fit for purpose. The next step is often to use the test on people who already have cancer, where there are likely to be a lot more ‘red flag’ molecules floating around. It’s a sensible start – if a test can’t pick up cancer that’s already been diagnosed then it’s unlikely to be able to detect smaller cancers – but positive results at this stage aren’t as ‘game-changing’ as many headlines suggest.

For a test to really work, it needs to pick up tiny amounts of disease in people who don’t even know they have it.

“To show that screening with a given test is a useful intervention you need to do a randomised control trial.” These trials are very costly and difficult to organise because they need to include very large numbers of people.

Overcoming overdiagnosis

Finally, when you go looking for something you can usually find it. With every cancer test you also run the risk of identifying tiny tumours that may not have gone on to cause harm. We have not yet developed a way to distinguish between cancers that are dangerous and need treatment, and those which aren’t and could be safely left alone.

“There are lots of cancers that are called ‘cancer’ if you look at them under the microscope but actually, they were never destined to kill that person because they’re slow growing,” says Pharaoh.

And so naturally some of these cancers are treated, which could lead to unnecessary side effects.

Research to clear muddied waters

There are currently three national cancer screening programmes available in the UK for cervical, breast and bowel cancers. But, due to difficulties in developing useful cancer tests, these life-saving programmes have been decades in the making.

False clues make detecting cancer at an early stage very hard. But thanks to research, scientists are getting better at identifying red herrings. And learning more about cancer biology will get us closer to knowing how to set dangerous cancers apart from the mass of other molecules clouding our bodily fluids.

Although hard work, early detection is an investment that will really pay off. Developing these types of tests which meet the criteria above and promptly putting them into practice, will give people the best possible chance of treatment being successful and maybe even cure.

Follow our series to find out all the different ways – and types of bodily fluid – our scientists are investigating to find cancer early and boost the number of people who survive.

Gabi

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Cancer Research UK appoints new Executive Director of Fundraising and Marketing

5 days ago

Press release

Cancer Research UK, the world’s largest charity dedicated to saving lives through research, has appointed Philip Almond as executive director of fundraising and marketing.

"Fundraising underpins everything the charity achieves, and it will be a huge privilege to head up one of the most successful teams in the sector" - Philip Almond, executive director of fundraising and marketing

Philip brings a wealth of marketing experience to the charity.  He spent six years at the BBC as chief marketing officer, where he grew public support for the corporation during charter renewal, co-led myBBC, a big data initiative delivering personalised online content and a database of 32 million signed-in users, and founded BBC Creative, the BBC’s award-winning in-house agency.

Prior to that, Philip worked at Diageo for 17 years where he built effective business and marketing strategies as global brand director and chief marketing officer for popular food and drink brands.  Most recently he has founded and run his own marketing and coaching consultancy.

In his role at Cancer Research UK, Philip will be responsible for leading the charity’s brand, marketing and mass fundraising teams, which includes events and campaigns such as Race for Life and Stand Up To Cancer, as well as legacies and the charity’s chain of 600 high street shops.  He will also focus on how the charity builds long-term relationships with its volunteers and donors, and develop new, innovative fundraising ideas, that recognise the different ways that people choose to support the charity.

Philip Almond said: "I’m very excited to be joining Cancer Research UK in December.  Fundraising underpins everything the charity achieves, and it will be a huge privilege to head up one of the most successful teams in the sector.  The charity is very close to my heart, and I’m looking forward to working with so many inspiring people who are equally passionate about the cause.”

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK chief executive, said: “I’m delighted to welcome Philip to Cancer Research UK. His wealth of marketing experience will help us to continue to keep our supporters at the heart of everything we do and ultimately help us beat cancer sooner.”

Philip will start his new role on the executive board at Cancer Research UK in December, taking over from Ed Aspel who left the charity in November after nine years.

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Is Milk Lowering Uric Acid a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

5 days 4 hours ago
Parkinson’s disease, the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s, is characterized by a slowness of movement, rigidity, tremor, and stooping posture, all of which […]

How a virus might protect against skin cancer

5 days 6 hours ago
A recent study investigating the role of papillomaviruses in skin cancer produces surprising results. These viruses may, in fact, protect against cancer.

Ethnic minority women face more barriers to seeing their GP

5 days 12 hours ago

Press release

Women from ethnic minority backgrounds* report around twice as many barriers** than white women to seeking help for potential cancer symptoms, according to new research funded by Cancer Research UK.

“By addressing the barriers present in different communities, we have an opportunity to implement changes that can make everyone feel able to access healthcare. Only then will everyone have the best chance of surviving their cancer.” - Dr Katriina Whitaker, Univeristy of Surrey 

The study published in Psycho-Oncology found that, in England, women from ethnic minority backgrounds were more likely to feel too embarrassed to talk to a GP (75-91%) than white women (8%). Being too scared that a symptom was a sign of something serious was also more likely to be a potential barrier for ethnic minority groups.

And those with a poor understanding of what the GP says were around three times less likely to feel confident to talk in a consultation.

The researchers, based at the University of Surrey and Kings College London, surveyed 720 women from six different ethnic groups in England (white, Caribbean, African, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi), to try and understand why women might delay seeking medical help.

Participants were asked to answer how strongly they agreed with 11 statements designed to assess potential barriers to going to a GP if they had symptoms***, as well as answering some additional questions on their health literacy level and fatalistic beliefs.

Fatalism (i.e. having strong views on things such as “when bad things happen, it’s because they were meant to be” or “people die when it’s their time, and nothing can change that”) was higher among ethnic minority women compared with white women. And having a strong fatalistic belief was associated with reduced body awareness. This could mean that some women may be less likely to get to know their bodies.  

The researchers also discovered that ethnic minority women who had moved to the UK as adults were around 40 % less likely to report worrying about wasting a GP’s time as a potential barrier, than women from the same ethnic background born in the UK. This could suggest that a ‘stiff upper lip’ is engrained in British society and exists for women born in the UK, but is not usually adopted by women who move here later in life.

Across the groups, around 30% of ethnic minority women (except Bangladeshi) said they would pray about a symptom compared with 10% of white women, but it is not known whether they would pray instead of going to the doctor or pray alongside going to the doctor.

African, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women were also more likely to say they might use traditional remedies, but again, it is not known whether they would do that instead of, or as well as, going to the doctor.

Some previous studies**** have shown varied cancer outcomes exist across different ethnic groups. This could mean, due to perceiving more barriers, ethnic minority women may postpone seeking medical help which can delay cancer treatment and reduce survival.

Dr Katriina Whitaker, from the University of Surrey, said: “We found that women from different ethnic backgrounds experienced different barriers to seeking help. Often studies aren’t fully representative of the population, so including people from different ethnic backgrounds in research is an important step in identifying how to reduce inequalities.

“By addressing the barriers present in different communities, we have an opportunity to implement changes that can make everyone feel able to access healthcare. Only then will everyone have the best chance of surviving their cancer.”

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s head of health and patient information, said: “The earlier stage a cancer is diagnosed at, the better chance people have of surviving their disease. So we urge people to tell their doctor if they notice any changes to their body that aren’t normal for them.

“Making sure ethnic minority women are aware of things that can be done to make a doctor’s appointment easier, such as the use of translation services, will hopefully give them the confidence to speak openly to their GP about any concerns. At Cancer Research UK, our roadshow goes out into different communities to provide information about cancer and our online cancer chat forum provides a safe space for people to share their experiences and give support. *****

“It’s understandable that symptoms can be scary, embarrassing or something that’s hard to talk about. But doctors are there to help and are used to dealing with things patients may find difficult to discuss. In most cases it won’t be cancer, but it’s best to get it checked out.”

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Matteo Berrettini surprises young tennis star and cancer survivor

5 days 20 hours ago

Press release

ATP World No. 8 Matteo Berrettini gave 13-year-old tennis fan Darwin Hutchinson, from Rotherham in Yorkshire, the surprise of his life in a special meeting organised by Cancer Research UK and the Nitto ATP Finals.

“It’s always good to meet the fans but I especially enjoyed meeting Darwin today. He's been through a lot at a very young age and seeing the look on his face when I invited him down to play was great. He’s an inspiration to us all and I think he’s got a bright future in tennis ahead of him!” - Matteo Berrettini, ATP World No. 8

Darwin, who’s grown up watching and playing tennis, was diagnosed with bone cancer (Ewing’s sarcoma) in his pelvis, spine and lungs when he was only four-years-old and went through a year of chemotherapy and 30 doses of radiotherapy. Now, nine years on, he is in remission and despite long term side effects including curvature of the spine, scoliosis and one leg being slightly shorter than the other, Darwin plays competitive tennis and is also a keen crossfit athlete, competing in the British teen championships this summer.

Darwin thought he was headed to The O2 to talk about his experience of cancer and share his story as part of the partnership between Cancer Research UK and the Nitto ATP Finals, but little did he know, he was in for a big surprise. During his tour of the arena, Matteo Berrettini surprised Darwin and invited him to come and rally with him on centre court at The O2– showing just how far he’s come since his diagnosis.  Darwin also got to meet his favourite player, World No. 1. Rafael Nadal.

Matteo Berrettini said: “It’s always good to meet the fans but I especially enjoyed meeting Darwin today. He's been through a lot at a very young age and seeing the look on his face when I invited him down to play was great. He’s an inspiration to us all and I think he’s got a bright future in tennis ahead of him!”

Darwin started playing tennis when he still had his Hickman line attached and his parents would drive him across Yorkshire to compete in tournaments. He said: “I can’t believe I got to meet Matteo today. I love tennis and he is one of the best players so it’s amazing that I can say I’ve played with him!  It’s a dream come true!

“I was very young when I was diagnosed with cancer and going through my treatment was really tough but I didn’t let it stop me chasing my dreams. I’m looking forward to watching the tournament this week and one day I’d love to play here too!”

Angela Hutchinson, Darwin’s mum said: “Darwin had no idea about the surprise but seeing him play with Matteo was just wonderful. When Darwin was diagnosed he could hardly walk, but he was incredibly strong and playing tennis really helped him gain the strength and confidence to recover. He never complains or uses his diagnosis or side effects as an excuse, and I couldn’t be prouder of his achievements and how far he’s come.”

The heart-warming moment was arranged to mark the launch of this year’s Nitto ATP Finals in partnership with Cancer Research UK, which will see the world’s best eight qualified tennis players and doubles teams come together at the ATP’s season finale from 10 – 17 November at The O2, aiming to support research to help find new treatments that cause fewer long-term side effects, and help more people survive cancer with a good quality of life.
 

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News digest – transforming radiotherapy research, ‘DIY’ cervical screening tests, exercise and UK General Election

1 week 1 day ago

Science blog

£56m to revolutionise radiotherapy research in the UK

A new network of experts has been charged with developing the next generation of radiotherapy treatments. Our £56 million investment, which was widely reported, looks to transform the UK into a global research hub, pioneering the use of innovative new techniques in radiotherapy and artificial intelligence (AI) to improve therapy. Read more about how we intend to revolutionise radiotherapy in our blog post.

‘DIY’ home tests could provide new options for cervical screening

A new ‘DIY’ urine or swab test that can be done at home could provide an alternative to current cervical screening tests, reports the BBC. It’s an exciting prospect, as tests like these can help to improve early detection and break down barriers to attending cervical screening. But while the tests could pick up DNA changes caused by HPV infection, the major cause of pre-cancerous cervical cell changes, they’re not ready to be rolled out just yet. So far, only people with advanced cervical cell changes that were picked up through existing screening tests have been studied. Researchers will now need to test how effective the kits are for more people, including those who’ve had normal screening results before.

Gut bacteria may be linked to increased bowel cancer risk

The Guardian reported a study showing a certain type of gut bacteria could increase the risk of bowel cancer by up to 15% in some people. The study, yet to be published, looked at the genetic and microbiome data of 120,000 people to see whether people with certain genetic traits had a greater risk of developing the disease. But experts have been quick to urge caution when interpreting the results, saying it’s difficult to judge how strong the findings are without more information. The role that the bugs in our gut play in cancer is getting more and more attention, read our blog post for a closer look at the microbiome.

Added benefits of exercise for breast cancer patients revealed

New research suggests that people with breast cancer who exercise for the recommended 150 minutes each week could help reduce their risk of dying. The study, picked up by Mail Online, was run by scientists at the German Cancer Research Centre and involved over 2,000 women. But while there’s evidence emerging that exercise can help improve survival, more research needs to be done to understand which types of exercises are most helpful, and when they might make a difference. Experts recommended that anyone considering taking up exercise alongside their treatment should speak to their doctor first.

High-risk men should get prostate cancer checks, says researchers

Scientists in London say an annual blood test should be recommended to men born at high risk of developing prostate cancer. But while understanding more about people at higher risk of prostate cancer is important, previous studies have shown that PSA is not a suitable test for screening prostate cancer in the general population. And there’s still a lot more work to do before we can say that giving PSA tests to high-risk men could save lives from this disease.  Read the story at BBC News.

Excitement over blood test that detects breast cancer ‘years before symptoms develop’

‘Simple’ blood tests were back in the news this week after early results from a study by researchers in Nottingham, presented at a conference, suggest that breast cancer can be detected in the blood up to 5 years before clinical signs. But while the potential of detecting cancers markers in the blood is hugely promising, the test detected less than 4 in 10 cancers in patients who had already been diagnosed.

Only children are more likely to be obese than those with siblings

A US study has found that only children are significantly more likely to be overweight by the time they turn 7. Research suggests 37% of only children are obese, compared with just 5% of children with siblings. Whilst the reasons behind these findings are unclear, scientists reported unhealthier eating habits and the higher weight of mothers in only children as potential reasons. But as the study only monitored 68 children over a one-week period, there’s a lot more to learn before scientists can say if this is a true link and what could reduce children’s risk of developing obesity as a result. Find the full write-up in the Mail Online.

Vitamin D makes melanoma cells less aggressive in the lab

Scientists have uncovered more about how vitamin D influences the behaviour of melanoma cells in the lab and in mice. While it’s early days yet, scientists hope to use this information to investigate if vitamin D could one-day help to boost the effectiveness of other treatments.  Our press release gives more insight on the study.

New AI blood test could speed up diagnosis of brain tumours

iNews reports on a new test, which combines blood tests with an artificial intelligence (AI) programme, that could speed up the diagnosis of brain tumours and help patients receive treatment earlier. Researchers trialled the new test on blood samples from 400 people with possible signs of brain tumour, 40 of whom were subsequently found to have the disease. The test correctly identified 82% of the brain tumours. The next step is to try the test in 600 people who are suspected of having a brain tumour.

First steps taken in editing genes to fight cancer

Doctors in the US have begun testing a new gene-editing technique for people with cancer. The editing was done by a DNA snipping tool called CRISPR, editing genes to help patients’ immune systems attack cancer cells. So far, the treatment has been trialled in 3 patients, with the main aim to asses if the treatment is safe to use in people. The New York Times has more.

And finally…

Campaigns have kicked off for the UK General Election on the 12thDecember. Use our General Election fact checker to help you see all party claims about cancer in the run up to elections.

Scarlett Sangster is a writer for PA Media Group 

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