August 2010 podcast transcript
This month, long-term survival from many cancers has doubled since the 70s, research reveals how to reduce side effects caused by some childhood cancer treatments, womb cancer rates have risen dramatically over the past three decades, and we find out about the biggest ever study on diet and cancer risk.
People diagnosed with breast, bowel and ovarian cancers and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma today are twice as likely to survive for at least 10 years as those diagnosed in the early 1970s. There is also encouraging news for leukaemia, with patients four times as likely to survive for 10 years compared with those diagnosed in the early 1970s.
The new figures were released by Cancer Research UK to coincide with the launch of a new TV advert. Our director of brand and PR, Carolan Davidge, says although much has been achieved in the fight against cancer, there’s still more to do. Here she tells our reporter Laura Dibb more about the campaign.
“Our new advertising campaign is running across television and radio. We’ve done some PR around it, and we’ve also got some adverts running on the internet starting soon. It’s all aimed at telling people about what we do, what we’ve achieved in terms of the progress that’s being made in cancer survival rates thanks to research that we fund. But also it demonstrates that more needs to be done – we need everyone supporting us, giving us £2 a month preferably, if we’re ever going to beat cancer.
One of the things that’s really unique in the way we’re doing advertising now is that we’re using real people rather than actors in our campaigns. So when we launched our new campaign last year we used real people – survivors and patients, people who’d either experienced cancer or who were still going through their cancer journey.
This year we’ve got an added dimension in that we’ve used our cancer doctors – real clinician scientists, as they’re called, who both work in hospitals treating patients for their cancer but also have research grants from Cancer Research UK to be looking at new ways of diagnosing and treating the disease.”
And you can watch the new advert on our blog.
Giving children a special protein alongside chemotherapy for the aggressive cancer neuroblastoma can cut the chances of them suffering potentially serious side effects from the chemo.
Drugs for treating the cancer can hinder the production of white blood cells, which are an essential part of the immune system. Losing white blood cells leaves children susceptible to serious infections and other complications.
The protein, called granulocyte colony-stimulating factor, or GCSF, boosts production of white blood cells. But this Cancer Research UK-funded study is the first large trial to show that it can reduce the complications associated with low white blood cells in children treated for advanced neuroblastoma.
Cancer Research UK’s Head of Clinical Trials, Julie Hearn, told us how this research is already benefiting children diagnosed with the disease.
“Around a hundred children are diagnosed with neuroblastoma every year in the UK, and those with the most advanced forms are given particularly intense treatment. The results of this trial were so strong that they’ve led to a change in clinical practice, and children across Europe will now receive more effective treatment for this disease.”
Cancer Research UK figures show that the number of women diagnosed with womb cancer is at its highest for more than 30 years. In 1975, 13 in every 100,000 women were diagnosed with womb cancer but over 30 years later the rates have risen to more than 19 women being diagnosed in every 100,000.
Experts believe the reasons for the continuing rise in womb cancer include more women being overweight or obese, and women having fewer or no children. Jess Harris from our health information team explains more about the causes of the disease, and the symptoms that women should watch out for.
“Both being overweight and the number of children you have affect the balance of certain different hormones in your body.
In general, if you notice anything out of the ordinary for you or your body, then it’s a good idea to go and see the GP and get it checked out. In particular, if you notice any unusual bleeding - whether it’s between periods, after sex, or if you’ve been through the menopause - or if you have any pain or discomfort in your abdomen, then it’s a good idea to go and see your GP.”
Cancer Research UK is helping to fund the UK arm of a massive study called EPIC, the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer. It’s the largest ever study looking at the links between diet and cancer.
EPIC is a long-term study of more than 500,000 people in ten European countries. Around 90,000 are British men and women, including about 30,000 vegetarians, recruited by Cancer Research UK groups in Oxford and Norfolk.
Paul Thorne spoke to EPIC researcher Dr Naomi Allen at the University of Oxford to find out more. He started by asking her to explain why such a large number of people were needed for the study.
“Particularly for diet, we’re looking for small effects in relation to whether diet influences risk, so you need large numbers of individuals to specifically detect whether a small effect is real or not. And also when you’re looking at cancer, and particularly the rare forms of cancer, obviously the larger study you have, the more likely it is you’re going to detect small effects with these rare types of cancer.
The other thing about EPIC was that we’ve included people from Norway all the way down to Greece. So we’ve got populations there with a Mediterranean-style diet, and those who are largely meat-eaters and fish-eaters. With such a broad range of dietary habits we can really identify which aspects of diet are important in trying to distinguish different rates of disease.
We know both from EPIC and other epidemiological studies that dietary-related factors such as obesity and alcohol account for about 5 per cent of cancer in Western countries – that’s now well-established.
So for bowel cancer, the cancer you might think for which diet is most strongly related to risk, the EPIC study has shown that meat – and in particular, processed meat – increases risk, as does high alcohol intake. And high fibre intake may lower the risk. But the evidence isn’t entirely consistent, as vegetarians don’t appear to have substantially lower rates of bowel cancer.
But nonetheless, there is an emerging factor that meat may be a risk factor and fibre and fruit and vegetables may be protective. But for the two most common cancers – breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men – there are no strong dietary links.
The short answer is that there isn’t any one particular “superfood” to protect against cancer. After years of research we’re now realising that it’s highly unlikely that a single food or nutrient has a big effect on cancer risk. Up till now, we’ve take a rather reductionist approach, investigating single nutrients – usually focused on so-called superfoods that contain high amounts of antioxidants or vitamins – but these haven’t yielded any answers so far.
Trials of vitamin supplementation have also failed to show any large benefit for cancer prevention. So I think it’s much more likely that sensible eating habits, avoiding excess weight gain, and limiting alcohol intake is much more likely to make a difference to cancer rates than focusing on single foods.
The two most well-established dietary-related factors that we know cause cancer are obesity and alcohol, and the best advice is to maintain a normal weight and to lower or minimise alcohol intake – especially for women in relation to breast cancer risk.”
That was Paul Thorne talking to Dr Naomi Allen. And you can find out more about EPIC, and watch a video about the study, on our News and Resources website.
We’ll be back next month with all the latest news and analysis. You can keep up-to-date in the meantime by following us on Twitter.
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team