UPDATE 20/10/11: Today’s announcement is discussed here
There's not enough evidence to say for sure
Do mobile phones cause cancer? The debate has been raging for years, and we’ve covered it several times on this blog.
Today, the International Agency for Research into Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organisation – had their say. Over the last week, they convened a panel of 31 experts to look at the available evidence. Their verdict: “radiofrequency electromagnetic fields” – the sort given off by mobile phones – belong to “Group 2B”, which means that they “possibly” cause cancer in humans.
What does that mean?
It means that there is some evidence linking mobile phones to cancer, but it is too weak to make any strong conclusions. Specifically, IARC’s panel said that the evidence that mobile phones pose a health risk was “limited” for two types of brain tumours – glioma and acoustic neuroma – and “inadequate” when it comes to other types of cancer.
A new study doesn't actually show that coffee can prevent cancer, despite the headlines.
Coffee is one of those things that feels like it should be bad for you, probably because it tastes nice and lots of people drink it. So it might surprise some people to see headlines this morning claiming that coffee could protect against breast cancer.
Here’s what the press release said:
Coffee reduces breast cancer risk
Recently published research shows that coffee drinkers enjoy not only the taste of their coffee but also a reduced risk of cancer with their cuppa. More detailed research published today in BioMed Central’s open-access journal Breast Cancer Research shows that drinking coffee specifically reduces the risk of antiestrogen-resistant estrogen-receptor (ER)-negative breast cancer.
Pretty strong words. The message is clear: drink coffee, and your risk of breast cancer (or at least one type of it) will go down. Is that what the study showed?
The press release leaves out important details in the study, which either contradict these conclusions, or severely weaken them.
Let’s take a closer look.
In the light of today’s headlines about aspirin and cancer, we spoke to one of our leading scientists Professor Janusz Jankowski, who’s running a clinical trial – AspECT – looking at whether aspirin can prevent oesophageal and bowel cancer. Here are his opinions and concerns about the latest findings:
Professor Janusz Jankowski
Aspirin’s ability to prevent cancer, especially cancers of the digestive system (oesophagus, stomach and bowel cancers) is well known.
But before we can recommend that people take aspirin, there are several important things to learn about whether long-term low-dose aspirin use is beneficial overall.
Aspirin could help beat cancer but do the benefits outweigh the risks?
A new study suggests that taking low doses of aspirin for at least five years can reduce the risk of dying from cancer. This is promising news, but if people are considering taking aspirin on a regular basis, they need to weigh up the benefits and risks with the help of their GP.
What’s the new study and what did it find?
The new study, published in the Lancet, was led by Professor Peter Rothwell from the University of Oxford. He combined the results of eight different clinical trials where volunteers took aspirin every day for at least four years.
None of the trials specifically set out to look at cancer, but they all recorded cancer deaths. Together, they included over 25,000 patients, of whom 674 died from cancer.
The results showed that people who took at least 75 milligrams of aspirin (the same dose as in a ‘junior’ aspirin) every day had around a 20 per cent lower risk of dying from cancer. To put this into perspective, if 100,000 people take aspirin every day for at least five years, around 56 cancer deaths will be avoided.
The human papillomavirus can cause cervical cancer
The cervical cancer screening programme has been around since 1988. In that time, it has saved as many as one hundred thousand lives from cervical cancer. Now, in 2010, the programme is as effective as ever and it’s still vital that women take up the invitation to go for screening when they receive it.
But some things have moved on. We know more about cervical cancer and the virus that causes it: human papillomavirus, or HPV. Testing for HPV itself, could be an attractive alternative to the current “smear test”, which looks for abnormal cells in the cervix.
We also have a vaccine against two of the most common strains of HPV – 16 and 18 – the ones that are most likely to cause cervical cancer. The vaccine, known as Cervarix, has passed a number of rigorous clinical trials and it’s both safe and effective. It doesn’t cover every strain of HPV, but it has the potential to prevent at least seven out of ten cervical cancers and probably more.
In the UK, the vaccine is now being offered to girls aged 12 to 13, who are given three injections over six months. There has also been a two-year catch-up programme to vaccinate girls aged between 13 and 18. The early results are very encouraging – around 80 per cent of girls aged 12 to 13 have been vaccinated with all three jabs.
According to Professor Peter Sasieni, one of our scientists at Queen Mary, University of London, these two advances – HPV testing and the vaccine – have big implications for the UK’s cervical screening programme.
Physical activity could help to reduce the risk of womb cancer
Keeping active is great for your health. It keeps excess fat at bay, gives you a rush of mood-enhancing endorphins, and keeps your bones and muscles strong. Many studies have also shown that keeping physically active can reduce the risk of bowel and breast cancers.
But a new study has just been published in the British Journal of Cancer, which confirms that being active also reduces the risk of womb cancer (technically, “endometrial” cancer, which starts in the lining of the womb).
To investigate the link, the researchers looked at the combined results of many different studies into activity and womb cancer risk. This gave them an overall, more reliable, picture of the effects of physical activity.
And that wasn’t all: these overall results also hinted that spending too long sitting down was also linked to a higher risk of womb cancer.
Business Secretary Vince Cable has indicated a squeeze on public funding for scientific research
On 20th October the UK Government will announce how they’re going to distribute public money in the coming years. As a nation, we already know that we’re in for a rough ride. The question is how rough, and who and what are going to take the biggest hit.
While health has been given a welcome reprieve, with NHS budgets protected, science and research remain in the firing line.
In a speech today, the coalition’s Business Secretary Vince Cable has indicated a squeeze on public funding for scientific research.
But the science community is warning that this could have serious consequences and, in a major analysis piece in today’s Times, our Chief Executive Harpal Kumar tackles the issues head on.
“Scientific research makes a vital contribution to the economy, and the Government’s role in this research is crucial. At Cancer Research UK, we understand that the Government has some incredibly tough decisions to make and that cuts in the science budget next month are inevitable. However, we must all consider the long-term harm that would follow,” he writes.
We want the Government to remember that while medical research is good for health, and great for furthering scientific knowledge, it is also hugely valuable for the strength of the economy.