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Jan 31
Cancer fight 'hampered in UK by stiff upper lip'
The UK's "stiff upper lip" culture may explain why it lags behind other countries when it comes to beating cancer, say experts.

Researchers, who surveyed nearly 20,000 adults in six high-income countries, said they found embarrassment often stopped Britons visiting the doctor.

Respondents in the UK were as aware of cancer symptoms as those in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, but more reluctant to seek help, they said.

A third feared wasting a doctor's time.

One in six of the men and women aged 50-and-over surveyed in the UK was embarrassed about sharing their symptoms with a doctor, the researchers from King's College London and University College London, with help from Cancer Research UK and Ipsos Mori, found.

They said, in the British Journal of Cancer, that this may partly explain why the UK has a far lower cancer survival rate than other developed nations, despite good access to skilled medical staff and cutting-edge treatments.

The researchers surveyed people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but not Scotland.
'UK phenomenon'

Data shows that for cancer survival, the UK ranks behind many countries, including the five other nations looked at in the study.

According to estimates, the lives of more than 5,000 cancer patients could be saved each year in England alone if the country matched the best European survival rates.

Former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley pledged to achieve this target by the next general election in 2015, with the government's cancer strategy.

Lead researcher Dr Lindsay Forbes said: "This is a real UK phenomenon. UK people really stood out in our study.

"As a nation we are much more likely to say we are embarrassed about going to the doctor or we are worried that we will take up a doctor's time.

"We don't know why British people feel like that. It may be that we are more stoic and have a war-time mentality.

"We know that older people in particular can get a symptom and then wait for weeks or months before going to see their doctor."

Sara Hiom, of Cancer Research UK, said the charity "and others are working hard to understand and address these potential barriers to early presentation and encourage people to tell their doctor if they have noticed something different about their body".

"More work also needs to be done to tackle the poor awareness that cancer risk increases with age," she added.

The researchers note that Denmark also ranks relatively low for cancer survival. They suspect this could be due to delays in patients accessing timely hospital care - something which may also apply to the UK to some extent.

Jan 31
Vegetarians 'cut heart risk by 32%'
Ditching meat and fish in favour of a vegetarian diet can have a dramatic effect on the health of your heart, research suggests.

A study of 44,500 people in England and Scotland showed vegetarians were 32% less likely to die or need hospital treatment as a result of heart disease.

Differences in cholesterol levels, blood pressure and body weight are thought to be behind the health boost.

The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Heart disease is a major blight in Western countries. It kills 94,000 people in the UK each year - more than any other disease, and 2.6 million people live with the condition.

The heart's own blood supply becomes blocked up by fatty deposits in the arteries that nourish the heart muscle. It can cause angina or even lead to a heart attack if the blood vessels become completely blocked.

Scientists at the University of Oxford analysed data from 15,100 vegetarians and 29,400 people who ate meat and fish.

Over the course of 11 years, 169 people in the study died from heart disease and 1,066 needed hospital treatment - and they were more likely to have been meat and fish eaters than vegetarians.

Dr Francesca Crowe said: "The main message is that diet is an important determinant of heart health, I'm not advocating that everyone eats a vegetarian diet.

"The diets are quite different. Vegetarians probably have a lower intake of saturated fat so it makes senses there is a lower risk of heart disease."

The results showed the vegetarians had lower blood pressure, lower levels of "bad" cholesterol and were more likely to have a healthy weight.

Tracy Parker, from the British Heart Foundation, said: "This research reminds us that we should try to eat a balanced and varied diet - whether this includes meat or not.

"But remember, choosing the veggie option on the menu is not a shortcut to a healthy heart. After all, there are still plenty of foods suitable for vegetarians that are high in saturated fat and salt.

"If you're thinking of switching to a vegetarian diet, make sure you plan your meals carefully so that you replace any lost vitamins and minerals, such as iron, that you would normally get from meat."

Jan 30
Disabled HIV virus could help cure cancer
A research team at the University of Pennsylvania, US, has claimed to have found a clever way to deal with cancer.

The technique uses a disabled form of the HIV virus, which leads to AIDS, to carry genes into white blood cells called T-cells.

These T-cells are then reprogrammed to attack cancer - with startling results, the Mirror reported.

An American child of six was suffering from a deadly form of leukaemia that was resistant to all forms of treatment and her doctors had run out of options.

Her parents sought an untried, experimental treatment at The Children`s Hospital of Philadelphia, US.

It had never been tried in a child or anyone with the same kind of leukaemia.

The treatment nearly killed her but, now at the age of seven, she`s cancer free.

She`s one of just 12 patients who have had the same treatment.

Researchers are hoping it will eventually go on to replace bone marrow transplantation, which is a risky, time-consuming and expensive procedure that is often the only hope when all other treatments have failed.

In the small number of patients treated so far, some have had complete remissions, while two of them are still well after more than two years.

To give the treatment, doctors first remove millions of the patient`s T-cells, then insert new genes into them that enables the T-cells to kill cancer cells.

The carrier for the genes is a disabled form of the HIV virus, which is very good at carrying genetic material into T-cells.

The altered T-cells are then dripped back into the patient`s body through a vein and, hopefully, multiply and start destroying the cancer.

A sign the treatment is working is when the patient becomes very ill with a raging fever and chills.

This is due to the outpouring of natural chemicals, cytokines, from the cells of the immune system as they`re being activated. When the altered T-cells persist, patients go into long remission of their disease.

However, the treatment is costly as a new batch of T-cells has to be created for each patient.

In the US, producing the engineered T-cells costs about 12,500 pounds - far less than a bone marrow transplant.

If the treatment could be scaled up, it would be even cheaper to perform. Many more patients must be treated and studied before the procedure will be accepted properly.

Jan 30
Eating deep-fried foods may up risk of prostate cancer
A study by investigators at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has found that regular consumption of deep-fried foods such as French fries, fried chicken and doughnuts is associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer, and the effect appears to be slightly stronger with regard to more aggressive forms of the disease.

While previous studies have suggested that eating foods made with high-heat cooking methods, such as grilled meats, may increase the risk of prostate cancer, this is the first study to examine the addition of deep frying to the equation.

Specifically, Janet L. Stanford, PhD, co-director of the Hutchinson Center`s Program in Prostate Cancer Research, and colleagues found that men who reported eating French fries, fried chicken, fried fish and/or doughnuts at least once a week were at an increased risk of prostate cancer as compared to men who said they ate such foods less than once a month.

In particular, men who ate one or more of these foods at least weekly had an increased risk of prostate cancer that ranged from 30 to 37 percent. Weekly consumption of these foods was associated also with a slightly greater risk of more aggressive prostate cancer.

The researchers controlled for factors such as age, race, family history of prostate cancer, body-mass index and PSA screening history when calculating the association between eating deep-fried foods and prostate cancer risk.

"The link between prostate cancer and select deep-fried foods appeared to be limited to the highest level of consumption - defined in our study as more than once a week - which suggests that regular consumption of deep-fried foods confers particular risk for developing prostate cancer," Stanford said.

Possible mechanisms behind the increased cancer risk, Stanford hypothesizes, include the fact that when oil is heated to temperatures suitable for deep frying, potentially carcinogenic compounds can form in the fried food.

They include acrylamide (found in carbohydrate-rich foods such as French fries), heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (chemicals formed when meat is cooked at high temperatures), aldehyde (an organic compound found in perfume) and acrolein (a chemical found in herbicides). These toxic compounds are increased with re-use of oil and increased length of frying time.

Foods cooked with high heat also contain high levels of advanced glycation endproducts, or AGEs, which have been associated with chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. Deep-fried foods are among the highest in AGE content. A chicken breast deep fried for 20 minutes contains more than nine times the amount of AGEs as a chicken breast boiled for an hour, for example.

For the study, Stanford and colleagues analyzed data from two prior population-based case-control studies involving a total of 1,549 men diagnosed with prostate cancer and 1,492 age-matched healthy controls. The men were Caucasian and African-American Seattle-area residents and ranged in age from 35 to 74 years. Participants were asked to fill out a dietary questionnaire about their usual food intake, including specific deep-fried foods.

The findings have been published online in The Prostate.

Jan 29
HIV 'may have an ancient origin'
The origins of HIV can be traced back millions rather than tens of thousands of years, research suggests.

HIV, which causes Aids, emerged in humans in the 20th Century, but scientists have long known that similar viruses in monkeys and apes have existed for much longer.

A genetic study shows HIV-like viruses arose in African monkeys and apes 5 million to 12 million years ago.

The research may one day lead to a better understanding of HIV and Aids.

HIV affects 34 million people worldwide.

The disease emerged during the 20th century after a HIV-like virus jumped from chimps to humans.

Scientists have long known that similar viruses, known as lentiviruses, are widespread in African primates.

Past genetic research has suggested these "cousins" of HIV arose tens of thousands of years ago, but some experts have suspected this is an underestimate.
Evolutionary arms race

Scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle, US, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, also in Seattle, looked at the genetic signatures of HIV-like viruses in a number of primates, including chimps, gorillas, orang utans and macaques.

Changes in genes that have evolved in the immune systems of monkeys and apes in Africa suggest the viruses arose between 5 and 16 million years ago.

The research, published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, gives clues to how the immune systems of our closest relatives evolved to fight infection.

Dr Michael Emerman of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center said: "Our study reveals that, while primate lentiviruses may have modern consequences for human health, they have ancient origins in our non-human primate relatives."

Commenting on the study, Dr Sam Wilson of the MRC - University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research in Glasgow, said: "This kind of research helps us understand how the virus works.

"The hope is that one day this will translate into therapy."

Jan 29
'Ban non-medics from giving Botox'
Only trained doctors, nurses and dentists should provide non-surgical cosmetic treatments such as Botox, say surgeons.

Currently people such as beauticians with no medical training can administer anti-wrinkle Botox injections, even though it is a potent neurotoxin.

The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) wants to put an end to "Botox parties" and rogue traders.

The government has been assessing whether tougher laws are needed.

NHS medical director, Sir Bruce Keogh, has been conducting a review into the cosmetic industry and will report back to government in March.

The RCS in England wants a clampdown, and has set out a list of standards for the industry.

RCS president Prof Norman Williams said: "While the colleges and professional organisations involved in cosmetic practice are neither regulators nor legislators, the profession has a responsibility to provide standards to which we would expect our members to work.

"We have serious concerns that not all those who offer cosmetic procedures are adequately qualified, or that patients are getting accurate information prior to treatment. We hope these standards will feed into the ongoing review of the industry led by the NHS medical director, Sir Bruce Keogh, and improve quality of care for patients going forward."

The RCS makes several recommendations, including a proviso that anyone planning to have a cosmetic procedure should have a thorough psychological assessment beforehand.

Only those who have medically recognised qualifications and training and should carry out cosmetic procedures, such as breast surgery, liposuction and Botox treatment, and in a registered clinic with resuscitation equipment on hand in the event of an emergency, it recommends.

Practitioners have a duty to manage a patient's expectations of how they will feel after treatment, the RCS says.

They should not imply that patients will feel "better" or "look nicer", for example, and should instead use unambiguous language like "bigger" or "smaller" to describe what that patient is trying to change, it says.

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), which represents about a third of plastic surgeons in Britain, would also welcome stricter controls.

BAAPS says all of its accredited surgeons are fully trained, vetted and qualified to carry out cosmetic procedures. But it cannot vouch for the rest working in the private sector.

Because of the lack of regulation, it is difficult to gauge the scale of the issue. Most cosmetic procedures are carried out privately, rather than on the NHS.

Estimates suggest that in 2011, there were 669,711 surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures carried out in the UK. BAAPS own figures show 43,172 surgical procedures were carried out by BAAPS members in 2011.

According to the Independent Healthcare Advisory Service (IHAS), about 200,000 anti-wrinkle injections, which includes Botox and dermal fillers, are carried out in the UK each year.

The IHAS runs a voluntary register of injectable-cosmetic providers aimed to help consumers find a skilled and trusted clinician.

A recent poll by ComRes of 1,762 people found many considered the cost of surgery more important than the qualifications of the people doing it or how they would be looked after.

Two-thirds of those questioned considered cost as a factor when deciding whether or not to have cosmetic surgery. Half said they would take the qualifications of their doctor into consideration and less than half would consider the quality of their aftercare when reaching a decision.

A Department of Health representative said: "The report from the Royal College of Surgery is timely as NHS medical director, Sir Bruce Keogh, is currently carrying out a review into regulation of cosmetic interventions, including cosmetic surgery.

"The review will be published in March. Its recommendations will be evidence-based, with the safety of the patient at the forefront."

Jan 28
Kidney disease 'biggest threat' for diabetics
Keeping your kidneys healthy could be one of the best ways to extend your life if you have Type 2 diabetes, researchers have suggested.

The University of Washington study found that having kidney disease meant a much higher risk of early death.

UK experts say that the NHS is still not putting enough effort into detecting and controlling kidney problems caused by diabetes.

Figures from 2012 suggest only seven in 10 patients get vital annual checks.

Approximately 5% of people in the UK have been diagnosed with diabetes, and careful management of their condition through a combination of medication and lifestyle changes can mean it has relatively little impact on their lives.

However, if the disease has been present for some time prior to diagnosis, or is poorly managed afterwards, the risk of life-changing complications rises.

These include eye and lower limb problems, and kidney problems.

The research, in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, looked at mortality rates over a 10-year period in more than 15,000 adults, with and without diabetes.

Kidney disease was present in 9.4% of the people without diabetes, and 42.3% of those with diabetes.

They found that 7.7% of those without diabetes or kidney disease died over the course of the decade-long study.

This rose to 11.5% for people with diabetes but no kidney disease, but soared to 31.1% for people with diabetes and kidney disease.
'No excuse'

Lead researcher Dr Maryam Afkarian said: "People with type-two diabetes have many other risk factors for cardiovascular disease and mortality, so we expected that kidney disease would predict a part, but not a majority, of higher mortality."

Singling this group of patients out for intensive treatment, or working harder to prevent kidney disease from taking hold, could be a powerful way of reducing deaths among people with diabetes, she added.

Cathy Moulton, a clinical adviser at Diabetes UK, said that if detected early, diabetic kidney disease could be controlled using blood pressure medication.

However, the charity's 2012 report found that as many as three in 10 patients were missing out the simple blood or urine tests that would reveal their kidney problems.

She said: "There really is no excuse for this - there is clear guidance saying that kidney function should be tested.

"Very often the doctor will be taking blood for other purposes, such as checking cholesterol levels, so it is the easiest thing in the world to do."

Kidney failure would cost the NHS thousands more in expensive dialysis treatments, she added.

Diabetes UK has compiled a list of 15 "healthcare essentials" that it says every patient with the disease should read and ensure they are receiving from the NHS.

Jan 28
Stem cell 'first aid' for rat stroke
Stem cells given in the vital period immediately after a stroke may aid recovery, suggest researchers.

Rats injected with stem cells 30 minutes after a stroke had almost normal brain function restored within a fortnight.

The Bolivian research team say the method has potential in human trials.

Current best practice is to treat many patients with "clot-busting" drugs in the "golden hour" after a stroke has taken place.

The research, published in the journal Stem Cell Research and Therapy, adds to others which have found that stem cells could aid stroke patients by boosting the body's ability to repair tissue damage.

Stem cells are the body's "master cells", with the potential to become many different cell types, and theoretically replace cells lost through disease or injury.

Recent tests in humans have show some promise, with stroke symptoms improving after an infusion of stem cells.

The Bolivian team, from La Paz University Hospital, extracted a certain type of stem cells from fat and bone marrow, then injected them into the blood vessels of rats shortly after they had suffered an artificially-induced stroke.

Even though the introduced cells did not appear to travel to the affected region of the brain, the rats still did better than other rats who did not receive the cells.

Within 24 hours, they were already showing a speedier recovery, and two weeks later, they registered almost normal scores on behavioural tests.
Easy to use

The researchers said the early introduction of the cells might even interrupt the typical "chain reaction" of tissue damage which follows a stroke, in which the initial injury harms additional cells in surrounding areas.

Dr Exuperio Diez-Tejedor, who led the research, said: "Improved recovery was seen regardless of origin of the stem cells, which may increase the usefulness of this treatment in human trials.

"Adipose (fat) -derived cells in particular are abundant and easy to collect without invasive surgery."

The ease of collection, and the ability to use "allogenic" cells from other rats rather than having to harvest the animal's own cells and culture them, meant a treatment was available not weeks after a stroke, when the damage was done, but in this case minutes.

They wrote: "From the viewpoint of clinical translation allogenic stem cells are attractive because they can be easily obtained from young healthy donors, amplified, and stored for immediate use when needed after a stroke."

They suggested that it might be possible to overcome the risk of immune rejection of the donor cells in humans.

However, a spokesman for the Stroke Association said that human trials of this particular technique would not be possible in the near future.

Dr Clare Walton said: "Stem cells are an incredibly interesting area of stroke research and the results of this study provide further insight into their potential use for stroke recovery.

"However, we are a long way off these types of treatments being used in humans and a lot more research is needed."

Jan 24
Controversial bird flu work resumes
Controversial research into making bird flu easier to spread in people is to resume after a year-long pause.

Some argue the research is essential for understanding how viruses spread and could be used to prevent deadly pandemics killing millions of people.

Research was stopped amid fierce debate including concerns about modified viruses escaping the laboratory or being used for terrorism.

The moratorium gave authorities time to fully assess the safety of the studies.

A type of bird flu known as H5N1 is deadly and has killed about half the people who have been infected.

It has not caused millions of deaths around the world because it lacks the ability to spread from one person to another. Cases tend to come from close contact with infected birds.
Scientists at the Erasmus University in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US discovered it would take between five and nine mutations in the virus' genetic code to allow it to start a deadly pandemic.Dangerous science?

Their research was the beginning of a long-running furore involving scientists, governments and publishers of scientific research.

The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity asked academic journals not to publish key parts of the findings. It was concerned terrorists would use the details to develop a biological weapon.

It provoked outcry among some scientists who said their academic freedom was being restricted. Other scientists said the risk of the virus spreading was too great for such research to take place and described it as a folly.

The details were eventually published in the journals Nature and Science.

However, the academics involved agreed to a voluntary 60-day moratorium on research - which was later extended to more than a year.

It was to give governments time to review safety standards needed in laboratories to conduct research with enhanced viruses and whether they wanted to fund such research.
Back on

A letter signed by 40 virus researchers around the world, published in the journals Science and Nature, said the moratorium was being lifted.

It said appropriate conditions had been set in most of the world and their studies were "essential for pandemic preparedness".

One of the leading proponents of the research Prof Ron Fouchier, from the Erasmus Medical Centre, told the BBC it had been "frustrating" to shut down research for the year.

"This research is urgent, while we are having this pause bird flu virus continues to evolve in nature and we need to continue this research.

"We cannot wait for another year or two years."

He expects to restart his laboratory's work within the next couple of weeks.

However, it is a different case for many of the other research groups involved. The US has not decided on the conditions under which it will allow the experiments to take place and the same applies to US-funded research taking place in other countries.

The decision has continued debate on whether the research should take place at all.

Prof Robert May, from the University of Oxford and a former president of The Royal Society, said: "These are not bad people, they are good people with good intentions, but they look through rose-coloured glasses at the security of the laboratories."

He said past history suggests "it will get out" as there had been more than a thousand cases of people being infected in labs with the highest standards and the 1977 outbreak of flu may have been connected to a Russian facility.

"That's why I feel the world is a safer place if we maintain this moratorium."

Jan 24
Female smoking death risk 'has soared'
Women smoking nowadays are far more likely to die as a result of their habit than they were in the 1960s, according to a new study.

Changing habits such as starting earlier and smoking more cigarettes have been blamed on dramatically increased risks of lung cancer.

The trends, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, show death rates in women have caught up with men.

The study looked at data from more than two million women in the US.

The first generation of women smokers started during the 1950s and 60s. In those early years, women who smoked were nearly three times more likely to die from lung cancer as people who had never smoked.

Looking at medical records from women between 2000-2010 showed they were 25 times more likely to die from lung cancer than their non-smoking friends.

It follows a similar pattern in men, who reached a similar level in the 1980s.

Lead researcher Dr Michael Thun said: "The steep increase in risk among female smokers has continued for decades after the serious health risks from smoking were well established, and despite the fact that women predominantly smoked cigarette brands marketed as lower in 'tar' and nicotine.

"So not only did the use of cigarette brands marketed as 'Light' and 'Mild' fail to prevent a large increase in risk in women, it also may have exacerbated the increase in deaths from chronic obstructive lung disease in male smokers, since the diluted smoke from these cigarettes is inhaled more deeply into the lungs of smokers to maintain the accustomed absorption of nicotine."

Research published last year suggested that lifelong female smokers died a decade earlier than those who never started.

However, those who gave up by the age of 30 almost completely avoided the risks of dying early from tobacco-related diseases with those stopping by 40 died a year younger.

Speaking after that study, Prof Sir Richard Peto, at Oxford University, said "If women smoke like men, they die like men."

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