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Breakthroughs in treating melanoma and diagnosing ovarian cancer - and why reports of breast cancer breakthroughs should be treated with caution

A roundup of the health news headlines on Thursday 10 January.

We start with the BBC, which reports that introducing medication-free spells to some cancer treatments may keep patients alive for longer.

Studies in mice with melanoma were conducted by scientists at the University of California and University Hospital Zurich.

The research, published in Nature, showed tumours not only became resistant to vemurafenib, but also became dependent on the drug to survive. Once the drug was withdrawn for a two week ‘drug holiday’, the tumours began to shrink.

Professor Mark Middleton, director of Cancer Research UK’s Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre in Oxford, said: ‘We still need to test the idea in the clinic, but these results suggest a way in which this important new treatment might be able to increase the benefit to patients and their families.’

Further good news comes from the Daily Mail, which claims there had been a breakthrough in the development of a single test to detect ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer and cancer of the cervix.

The researchers, from John Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore, Maryland, identified abnormal genes found in specific types of cancerous cells.

Writing in the journal Science Translational Medicine, they examined cervical smear test samples, looking for cancerous cells from the ovaries or the womb that had broken off and made their way to the cervix.

This method had a 100% success rate in detecting endometrial cancer. It also found 40% of ovarian tumours.

More research including large-scale trials is needed before the PapGene test, as it is known, is ready for the market and it will be at least a decade before it is widely available.

However, readers feeling a note of positivity may be brought back to earth by research reported in the Daily Telegraph which claims the results of studies into some cancer treatments (not, to be clear, the ones already mentioned, but instead those looking at breast cancer treatments) are often ‘spun’ to make treatments seem more beneficial than they are.

A review of 164 large scale phase 3 studies, published in the Annals of Oncology, found researchers frequently downplay negative results and overemphasise positive results and even bury reporting of serious side effects.

Professor Ian Tannock, a medical oncologist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, who led the research, said: ‘Better and more accurate reporting is urgently needed.’

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