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Early tests for arthritis and skin cancer spread on the horizon and a breakthrough in cervical cancer screening… but will the poor benefit?

A round-up of the health news headlines on Monday 4 November.

Good news on diagnostics and screening this morning. First up, the BBC reports that a simple blood test for identifying patients whose skin cancer has spread could be on the way.

Dundee University researchers have found measuring levels of the marker TFP12 in blood could reveal when melanoma has begun to spread.

Lead researchers Dr Tim Crook said: ‘There’s increasing evidence that the latest treatments are more effective in these early stages and, if we can identify patients whose cancer has only just started to spread, this would significantly improve the chances of beating the disease.’

Elsewhere the Daily Express offers front-page news on a potential early test for arthritis that is being researched by Manchester and Newcastle University teams. They are looking for markers of early stages of skeletal diseases including osteoarthritis and hope there could be a blood or urine test for GPs to use ‘in five years’.

Professor Mike Briggs, a world-renowned expert in skeletal genetics at Newcastle University, told the paper: ‘We are after developing something that can be used in a GP surgery and I hope that within five years we would have identified several markers that can test someone’s susceptibility.’

And there is also news in the Independent on research confirming that primary screening for HPV improves cervical cancer prevention compared with cytology-based screening. The study of 175,000 women showed each approach offered similar protection for the first 2.5 years, after which fewer cancers were detected in women who had undergone HPV screening. Overall, HPV screening protected 60-70% more women from invasive cervical cancer than purely cytology-based screening.

Lead researcher Dr Guglielmo Ronco, from the Centre for Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention in Turin, Italy, said: ‘On this basis, we recommend implementation of HPV-based cervical screening with triage from age 30 years at intervals of at least five years’. Currently women aged 25-49 years are tested every three years in the UK.

The NHS Cancer Screening Programme;s Professor Julietta Patnick described the results as ‘incredibly exciting’.

Elsewhere, however, there is more news that poorer people lose out when it comes to early disease detection. Research shows cancer sufferers in the most affluent areas are a third more likely to survive long-term than those from the poorest neighbourhoods, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The analysis of NHS figures showed diagnosis rates are highest overall in the most deprived areas, but there are significantly more cancer survivors in the most affluent areas – and the survival gap widens over time. The study authors suggest it may be that people in more affluent areas are aware of possible symptoms or more willing to visit a GP with concerns.

Mike Hobday, director of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, commented: ‘It is simply unacceptable in this day and age that your chances of surviving cancer depends on whether you live in an affluent area or not.’

‘Cancer patients must not be penalised for coming from a deprived part of the country.’

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