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Pre-sex HIV drug should be made available on NHS, MPs say

A drug that cuts the chances of contracting HIV during sex should be made available on the NHS in England to anyone at risk, three MPs have told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.

Tory MPs Crispin Blunt and Nigel Evans, and Labour’s Stephen Doughty said the Prep drug had been proven to be cost-effective during continuing trials.

A much cheaper version of Prep could soon be available to the NHS.

NHS England said it would “look at evidence from the trial”.

Prep (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is available on the NHS in Scotland and Wales.

‘Public attitudes’

Mr Blunt told the programme the drug “should be rolled out fully”.

“[Making it available] for all the people that might benefit will save the NHS money and assist the long-term elimination of HIV,” he said.

Mr Blunt, who is himself gay, added that he believed the stigma around some gay men’s lifestyles had influenced the decision not to roll out the drug.

Prep is suggested for people who might not have safe sex.

“The issue has not been one of public health, but public attitudes,” he said.

“The drug is associated with sexual behaviour. That doesn’t sit well with those who think there should only be sex within marriage.”

‘Life-saver’

Labour MP Stephen Doughty, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and Aids, said the drug was a “life-saver for individuals, and a cost-saver for the NHS”.

“The long-term costs to the NHS of people acquiring HIV and other co-morbidities is going to cost lots, lots more,” he said.

“It’s not just gay men who get infected and live with the consequences. It’s many other people”.

Mr Doughty said that in Wales, where the drug has been made available to all who can benefit from it, “not a single person has acquired HIV who is on Prep”.

Lower cost

The High Court ruled this week that the patent for the current Prep drug used by the NHS should end, meaning much cheaper versions could soon be available – reducing the potential overall cost to the NHS.

Conservative MP Nigel Evans, who is himself gay, told the BBC the “only blockage” to the drug was the “judgemental” attitudes of those who “would rather see young gay guys be HIV positive and on expensive drugs for the rest of their lives rather than allow them this protection”.

NHS England said that “while it would be wrong to prejudge the Prep impact trial, it is already expanding, with the number of places available increasing this year by 3,000 to 13,000”.

“The NHS will look at evidence from the trial to expand prevention services in the most effective way.”

Watch the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 BST on BBC Two and the BBC News channel in the UK and on iPlayer afterwards.

'Don't go cold turkey' to quit smoking

Smokers looking to quit as part of the annual Stoptober campaign are being warned not to go “cold turkey”.

Government health officials have said smokers stand a much greater chance of succeeding giving up by using official NHS support or turning to e-cigarettes.

Research has shown only 4% of those who go “cold turkey” remain smoke-free after a year.

But turning to nicotine replacement therapies, such as patches or lozenges, can increase that by 1.5 times.

And getting help from an NHS stop-smoking clinic leads to a four-fold rise in the chances of succeeding, according to Public Health England.

This year’s Stoptober campaign will see the introduction of a free online personal quit plan service.

It asks a number of questions and provides smokers with a suggested combination of support based on their level of tobacco dependency and what quitting support they have used previously.

It will be available from Thursday ahead of the official start of the campaign, on 1 October.

‘Don’t let quit failures put you off’

PHE deputy medical director Dr Jenny Harries said: “There are many different types of stop smoking support available, so it can be difficult for a smoker to know what will work for them.

“The important thing is not to be put off trying to quit even if you have not managed it in the past.”

Smoking rates have hit a record low in England – just 15% of the adult population smoke, a drop of a quarter since 2011.

That equates to just over six million smokers in total.

E-cigarettes remain the nation’s favourite stop smoking aid – with an estimated 3.2 million users, most of whom are former smokers.

One of those is TV presenter Jeremy Kyle, who has given up after 35 years of smoking, using e-cigarettes.

“I was a 20-a-day smoker for most of my life and am proud to say I quit smoking earlier this year,” he said.

“The thing that is really helping me stay smoke-free is vaping.

“I’m currently on the lowest-strength nicotine and will then come off the e-cigarette when the time is right for me.

“Since quitting I’ve learned just how important using support is and for people not to go ‘cold turkey’.”

Jelly treats for dementia sufferers

Lewis Hornby invented Jelly Drops, a hydrating treat for people with dementia, after his grandmother was hospitalised for dehydration.

Dehydration is a serious problem for people with dementia as they often forget or don’t want to drink, and Lewis hopes his invention, which is 90% water, can help.

Lewis has won several awards for his creattion, including Helen Hamlyn Design Award – Snowdon Award for Disability and the DESIRE Award for Social Impact.

Are drink-driving limits too high?

Have you ever decided to drive your car after a few drinks and wondered whether you were close to the limit – if it was safe?

If you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, you can drink a surprising amount of alcohol before you go above the current drink-drive limits.

But even if you are within those limits, you are up 13 times more likely to kill yourself (and anyone else you crash into) than someone who has drunk no alcohol.

In this week’s Trust Me, I’m a Doctor, we look at how the drink-drive levels were set – and whether the current ones are too high.

The UK’s drink-drive limit is 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. This level was set in 1967. But in 2001 the European Commission said new safety research suggested the limit should be cut to 50mg per 100ml.

Most European countries changed. The UK didn’t.

In 2014, however, Scotland did reduce its legal threshold to 50mg, and Northern Ireland has signalled its intent to do the same – leaving England and Wales with some of the highest limits in Europe.

Prof Richard Allsop was an adviser on the UK’s 1967 limits.

They were based on a major US study where researchers looked at all car accidents over the course of a year in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Based on that data, Prof Allsop calculated that by the time a driver was above the 80mg/100ml level, the risk of involvement in a collision of any kind – from a tiny fender bender up to fatal crash – was roughly doubled. So that is where the drink drive limit was set.

But a 2014 US study that looked at 1,766 fatal accidents over a three-year period indicated a driver was 13 times more likely to be involved in a fatal collision if they were above the 80mg/100ml limit.

Even at the 50mg/100ml level, you were still five times more likely to have a fatal collision, it said.

So how many lives does Prof Allsop think are currently lost due to drink driving?

“The official figure is about 240 a year,” he says, “but what is not reflected in that figure is that there are quite a lot of collisions happening where no-one has been driving over the [80mg/100ml] limit but, nevertheless, they are having collisions that they would not have had if they not been drinking – and the best estimate that we can make of the hidden drink drive deaths is about another 60.

“I’m sure we should lower the limit – down to 50mg/100ml at first, then perhaps after a time down to 20mg/100ml, which is what they have in Sweden.”

A spokesman for the Department for Transport, which controls the alcohol limit for driving, said: “Drink driving is completely unacceptable, which is why there are tough penalties and rigorous enforcement in place for those who do this.

“The government currently has no immediate plans to lower the drink-drive limit.

“However, we keep this policy area under constant review and will always welcome robust and accurate evidence on this subject.”

Trust Me I’m a Doctor continues on BBC Two on Wednesday, September 19, at 20:00.

Call to ban early baby sex tests

Labour is calling for a ban on parents-to-be being told the sex of their baby after early blood tests, amid fears it may lead to abortions of girls.

The Non-Invasive Prenatal Test (NIPT) is used by the NHS to test for genetic conditions, but people can pay for it privately to discover a baby’s sex.

Labour MP Naz Shah said it was morally wrong for people to use the test to abort pregnancies based on the outcome.

The Department of Health said it would continue to review the evidence.

An investigation by the Victoria Derbyshire programme has found thousands of British women discussing using NIPT to determine sex on an online forum.

Ms Shah, who is shadow women and equalities minister, said cultural practices in some communities like the South Asian community, have a preference for boys.

She said this put great strain on women “forcing them to adopt methods such as NIPT to live up to expectations of family members”.

NIPT involves taking a sample from the woman to look for DNA from the baby circulating in her blood, to gauge the risk of possible genetic conditions such as Down’s syndrome. It can also be used to determine sex, information which NHS doctors will not be sharing with parents when the test is rolled out across England next month.

Private clinics offer the same test for around £150-£200 and do share this information. Some require only that a drop of blood be sent in the post with results sent back in a few days.

Ms Shah said: “NIPT screenings should be used for their intended purpose, to screen for serious conditions and Down’s syndrome.

“The government needs to look into this exploitative practice and enforce appropriate restrictions.”


‘I had a panic attack when they said it was a girl’

Zara, not her real name, is Sikh and lives in Greater London.

“I had straightaway made that decision that I didn’t want to have this baby.

“We were a family of five girls and every time my Mum had another daughter everyone would come to the house as if they were coming to mourn.

“For them it’s like a burden. My fear was I didn’t want to go through what my mother went through.”

Zara discovered the sex of her baby five months into her pregnancy and opted to have a surgical abortion.

She now regrets the decision. “You see friends and family that have daughters and they have such a lovely relationship. I’m someone’s daughter and someone’s sister,” she said.

Zara says she believes abortion on the grounds of sex is a “very common” practice.


Rani Bilkhu from the Jeena International organisation says many women say they have suffered violence or been coerced into abortions because they were pregnant with a second or third girl.

It wants sex-selective abortion to be viewed as a form of honour-based violence.

“No wonder they’re resorting to sex-selection abortion because they’ve got no choice,” she says. “They don’t want to be homeless, they don’t want their marriage to fail – all because they couldn’t give birth to a boy.”

‘Only if it’s a boy’

The online forums where British women discussed using NIPT include thousands of posts where women express their anxiety about having a girl.

One said: “I need a son to heal me… my only bet is NIPT followed by continuation, only if it’s a boy.”

The programme also found one area, Slough, where women’s clinics offering these tests were being promoted on roadside adverts.

“This poster is really telling the community, ‘Come here, come to us and we’ll let you know whether you’re having a boy or a girl,'” says Ms Bilkhu.

Labour MP for Slough, Tan Dhesi, said marketing tests offering sex determination should be stamped out.

“Communities in South Asia have made huge strides in tackling this social evil,” he said. “That’s been primarily through legislation, banning gender determination clinics. In the UK I think we need to be doing likewise, with regards to the private sector as well.”

Choosing an abortion due to sex is illegal in the UK, apart from some rare exemptions, but it is difficult to detect as women often cite other reasons for having the procedure.

In 2015, the government acknowledged it did not know how widespread testing for sex was. It said if NIPT became more popular, it would need to analyse the impact it was having on the gender ratio in ethnic minority communities.

Ms Bilkhu said it was extremely hard to measure.

“Not only do the government not understand there’s an issue around sex-selection abortion, but also charities and statutory sectors aren’t asking the questions,” she said.

The Nuffield Council, which advises on ethical issues, recently held a consultation on NIPT testing. It believes the ability to determine sex reinforces pressure on women to have boys.

“The desire for sex-selection is a major driver of private-sector testing,” said Tom Shakespeare from the council. “I don’t think the government want to regulate, they just don’t like it in any sector.

“But countries like China and India have recognised the problem of sex-selective abortion and so it’s very difficult to get this information – in India it is illegal. So if we allow it, people will come here as tourists.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The pre-natal test is never meant to be used for determining the sex of a child. We will continue to review the evidence.”

Watch the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News channel in the UK.

'Aspirin-a-day risky in old age' – major study

Elderly people in good health should not take an aspirin a day, according to a major study in the US and Australia.

There are proven benefits of the drug for people after a heart attack or stroke.

But the trial found no benefit for healthy people over the age of 70, and the pills increased the risk of potentially fatal internal bleeding.

Experts described the results as very important and cautioned against self-medicating with aspirin.

People are prescribed aspirin after a heart attack or stroke because the drug thins the blood and reduces the chances of a repeat attack.

Some completely healthy people also choose to take aspirin to reduce their risk and there is continuing research into whether the drug can be used to cut the risk of cancer.

However, most research on the benefits of aspirin is performed on people in middle age and there is mounting evidence the dangers increase as we get older.

‘No benefit’

The study was of 19,114 people in the US and Australia in good health, with no history of heart problems and over the age of 70.

Half were given a daily low-dose aspirin for five years.

Three reports in the New England Journal of Medicine showed the pills did not reduce their risk of heart problems or have any other benefits.

They did increase the number of major stomach bleeds.

Prof John McNeil, from Monash University, said: “It means millions of healthy older people around the world who are taking low dose aspirin without a medical reason, may be doing so unnecessarily, because the study showed no overall benefit to offset the risk of bleeding.

“These findings will help inform prescribing doctors who have long been uncertain about whether to recommend aspirin to healthy patients.”

The study also discovered an increase in deaths from cancer, although the researchers think this needs further investigation as it goes against current findings in the field.

Prof Peter Rothwell, of Oxford University, a leading expert on the drug, said the findings were definitive.

“Taking aspirin if you are otherwise healthy, over the age of 70, if you haven’t had a previous heart attack or stroke, is really of very little benefit,” he said.

“And so self-medicating with aspirin in the absence of a definite medical indication isn’t advisable.”

The findings do not apply to people taking aspirin because of a heart attack or stroke – they should continue to follow their doctor’s advice.

And anybody who has been taking low-dose aspirin for a long time is advised not to stop overnight as that may also cause problems. Instead they should discuss any concerns with their GP, says Prof Rothwell.

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Pathologists shortage 'delaying cancer diagnosis'

Patients are facing delays in diagnosis because of severe shortages among pathology staff, according to a report seen by the BBC.

A survey by the Royal College of Pathologists found only 3% of the NHS histopathology departments that responded had enough staff.

Histopathologists are doctors and scientists who diagnose and study diseases such as cancer.

Hundreds more pathologists are now working in the NHS, health chiefs said.

‘Distressing’

Sandra Ratcliffe from South Ayrshire was diagnosed with breast cancer last year.

She had an operation to remove the tumour, but had two appointments cancelled and had to wait a month for test results to determine how serious her cancer was, whether it had spread and what further treatment she would need.

The hospital told her that the delays were due to staffing shortages in its pathology department.

She told 5 Live Investigates: “It was probably the most distressing month of my life.

“As every day went on, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. I was just consumed until I got the results and was able to move on with my treatment. It’s difficult to explain just how awful that feeling is.”

Sandra had radiotherapy and chemotherapy and has now been told she is free from cancer.

A spokesperson for NHS Ayrshire and Arran told the programme it worked to a number of quality measures, including turnaround times, and apologised for where it had not met those standards.

It said it had experienced difficulties recruiting consultant pathologists.

‘Staffing gaps’

The new report by the Royal College of Pathologists says that demand for pathology services has grown significantly in recent years, but staffing has not increased at the same rate.

It carried out a workforce survey of histopathology departments throughout the UK in 2017.

Of the 158 departments, 103 responded.

Only 3% said they had enough staff to meet current clinical demand.

And 45% of departments had to outsource work while half of departments were forced to use locums.

“The cost of staff shortages across histopathology departments is high for both patients and for our health services.

“For patients, it means worrying delays in diagnosis and treatment,” said Prof Jo Martin, president of the Royal College of Pathologists.

“We estimate the cost of locums and outsourcing work is £27m each year across the UK health service, money that could be better invested in staff and new diagnostic equipment” she added.

The report says histopathologists are facing intense pressure from increasing workloads due to new NHS screening programmes.

It also warns of an approaching retirement crisis – with a quarter of all staff aged 55 or over.

“If this trend continues unchecked, clinical services could be in jeopardy,” Prof Martin said.

“Making sure pathology services can cope with current and future demand is essential if we are to ensure early diagnosis and improve outcomes for patients.”

The college is calling for more funded training places, better IT systems and further investment in pathology services.


What is histopathology?

Histopathologists are doctors and scientists who diagnose and study disease using their expertise to interpret cell and tissue samples, for example, breast lumps or specimens of bowel removed because of suspected cancer.

They look at tissues and cells removed from patients in the clinic or during an operation.

Using a range of scientific methods, they assess if a disease is present and what course of action needs to be taken.


A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “There are hundreds more pathologists in the NHS compared to 2010 and hospitals have reduced spending on temporary agency staff by over half a billion pounds in the last year.

“We are listening to staff, encouraging more flexible working and have increased medical training places for home-grown doctors by 25%, to ensure the NHS has the workforce it needs for the future.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said it was facing challenges in recruiting pathologists but was developing a plan to address the issue.

The Scottish government said it had increased training places in pathology specialisms in the last three years and was considering a request for additional pathology trainees for 2019.

5 live Investigates is on BBC Radio 5 Live, 16 September at 11:00 BST – catch up on BBC iPlayer Radio.

Have you got something you want investigating? We want to hear from you. Email us.

Heart op patient wants to find Sully surgeon who saved her life

As a child, Susan Payne underwent heart surgery at Sully Hospital in Vale of Glamorgan.

In 1960, the procedure to repair the hole in her heart was pioneering and her parents were only given a 50/50 chance that she would survive.

Almost 60 years on and with the hospital long-since closed, Ms Payne wants to track down the family of the surgeon who saved her life.

She has tried but so far without success. Her only clue is a name in one of her childhood photos.

Harry from St John Ambulance teaches CPR

Knowing even a few key first aid practices can help you save a life when emergency strikes, and there’s no reason not to start young.

The St John Ambulance ‘Badger’ youth programme teaches children between seven and ten skills such as how to perform CPR. Harry, nine, shows us how to do it.

Transplant patient walked down aisle by donor’s dad

A woman who had a life-saving lung transplant has told BBC Radio 5 Live about the close relationship she’s developed with her donor’s family, including being walked down the aisle on her wedding day by her donor’s father.

Lisa Simkin from Nottingham, had the surgery in 2013. Her donor was 33-year-old Rhona, who had died of a brain haemorrhage days after giving birth to her second child.

Six months after the transplant, Lisa wrote a thank you letter to Rhona’s family, and said the family “opened their door with loving arms”.

This clip is from BBC Radio 5 Live Drive.

'My girl's meningitis was diagnosed as ear infection'

It was a Sunday last August and Kirstie Walkden’s nine-month-old daughter, Amy, had been out of sorts for a few days.

Worried, she decided to take her to the local accident and emergency unit, where Amy was diagnosed with an ear infection and sent home with some medicine.

Two days later, her condition had worsened. She had a sky-high temperature, was no longer eating or drinking and had gone floppy.

Her mother took her back to the hospital. “All hell broke loose,” says Mrs Walkden, 29. “Within an hour, she was placed in an induced coma. She was diagnosed with sepsis and then later peneumococcal meningitis.”

It was 18 days before she was ready to be discharged.

Amy is now doing well – although the family will not know for a few years whether there are any long-term effects.

“It could have been so different,” her mother says. “If we had got her to hospital any later, she might not have survived.”

‘We should have been given more advice’

Mrs Walkden, from the north-west of England, is now backing a plea by the Meningitis Research Foundation calling for more urgency and monitoring to ensure that parents receive the right advice about potential bacterial meningitis and sepsis cases among babies and young children.

“We felt reassured when the hospital told us it was an ear infection,” she says. “We were not told to look out for anything else.

“If we had, we might have brought her in sooner.”

Guidance issued by the NHS advisory body the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) states the NHS should provide parents with “safety netting” advice if they bring in children with symptoms that could be a sign of meningitis and sepsis.

The conditions can be difficult to spot at first because the symptoms, including a high temperature and vomiting, are similar to those of many less serious ailments.

But a report published by the Meningitis Research Foundation has suggested this safety netting does not always happen.

It cites research from last year that suggests nearly a third of young babies with meningitis receive inappropriate early treatment that delays parents seeking help.

The report includes personal accounts of more than 100 parents, many of whom were sent home with little advice following their first visit to a health professional.

Charity chief executive Vinny Smith says without safety netting advice advice parents can be put off seeking medical attention soon after being seen at hospital or by a GP – but these non-specific symptoms can turn lethal in just a few hours.

“When a child is ill and getting rapidly worse, parents should not be afraid to seek urgent medical help – even if they’ve already been seen by a doctor that same day,” she says.

What are meningitis and sepsis?

Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord.

It can affect anyone, but is most common in babies, young children, teenagers and young adults.

Meningitis can be very serious if not treated quickly. It can cause life-threatening blood poisoning – sepsis – and can result in permanent damage to the brain or nerves.

The symptoms include:

  • a temperature of 38C or above
  • being sick
  • a headache
  • a blotchy rash that doesn’t fade when a glass is rolled over it
  • a stiff neck
  • a dislike of bright lights
  • drowsiness or unresponsiveness
  • seizures

These symptoms can appear in any order and some may not appear.

The illnesses are sometimes known as meningococcal disease.

In the past decade, there have been between 700 and 1,300 reported cases of meningococcal disease each year in the UK.

Between 5% and 10% of cases result in death.

Of those who survive, 10% to 15% can be left with severe and disabling after-effects such as loss of hearing and sight, brain injury and damage to major organs or loss of limbs.

What do doctors and the government say?

The government in England says it has already taken action. A working group established by ministers has made a number of recommendations to improve care, including that it should be documented in patient’s notes when safety netting information has been provided.

The NHS is still in the process of rolling out the recommendations.

The Royal College of GPs also says it has made the issue a top priority in recent years. It has produced a toolkit to help GPs manage and identify cases.

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, who chairs the Royal College of GPs, says: “GPs know all too well that meningitis and indeed any form of sepsis can lead to serious complications and in some cases can be fatal, if not recognised and treated in a timely manner.

“But the challenge for all clinicians is that initial symptoms often present in exactly the same way as common viral illnesses such as flu, making both conditions very hard to spot in the early stages of disease.

“GPs are on permanent alert for signs of meningitis in their patients and we do speak to the parents of babies and young children about what they need to look out for which may indicate that an illness could be developing into something much more serious.”

Crowdfunded cancer treatments – do they work?

Crowdfunding for cancer treatments not available on the NHS has risen dramatically, according to figures published by the British Medical Journal.

In the last three years, at least £7m has been raised by people on crowdfunding sites like JustGiving and GoFundMe.

JustGiving’s own figures show that more than 2,300 UK cancer-related appeals were set up on its site in 2016, a sevenfold rise on the number for 2015.

Many of the patients raising money have exhausted their treatment options on the NHS and are trying to fund expensive treatments elsewhere.

Some patients are seeking immunotherapy, a cutting-edge treatment, which has been shown to work in certain cases, but not all.

Others are seeking more dubious alternative treatments. Experts are concerned that desperate patients may be being given false hope and encouraged to spend money on unproven treatments.

Complementary or alternative?

Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK’s head information nurse, said there was a difference between complementary medicines and treatments like yoga, acupuncture and massage, which might help improve wellbeing or quality of life, and alternative therapies which could replace conventional treatment.

“There isn’t any proper scientific evidence that many alternative treatments work. Otherwise we would be using them. If people are spending lots of money on unproven treatments then that is very sad, as somebody is making money out of them,” he said.

The crowdfunding figures were collected by the Good Thinking Society, a charity that promotes scientific thinking.

The society’s project director, Michael Marshall, said: “Many proposals refer to specific drugs that have been discredited, extreme dietary regimes, intravenous vitamin C, alkaline therapy and other alternative treatments.”


The popular alternative treatments that “don’t work”

Gerson Therapy

The treatment: Gerson Therapy is a therapy established by a German doctor called Max Gerson in the 1920s and 1930s. It’s based on a regimen of hourly raw and organic juices in addition to daily coffee enemas and heavy supplementation. Patients are often required to visit clinics in Mexico or Germany. Treatments can cost nearly £6,000 a week at these clinics.

The evidence: There is no scientific evidence that Gerson Therapy can treat cancer, and in some cases it could be harmful to your health.

The Alkaline Diet

The treatment: this is based on the idea that cancer thrives in an acidic environment, and that by changing the body’s PH level to be more alkaline will make the environment unwelcoming to cancer. The diet suggests eating more “alkaline” foods like green vegetables and fruit.

The evidence: Blood is usually slightly alkaline. It can’t be changed for any meaningful amount of time by what you eat, and any extra acid or alkali is simply passed out in urine. There is no evidence to show that the diet can manipulate whole body PH, or that is has an impact on cancer.

Antineoplaston

The treatment: Invented by Dr Stanislaw Burzynski, and promoted by his clinic in Houston, the therapy is based on the idea that peptides isolated from urine can be used to cure cancer. Patients enter into “clinical trials” at large cost to themselves.

The evidence: The only clinic reporting positive results for trials is Dr Burzynski’s own clinic. No other researchers have been able to show that this type of treatment helps to treat cancer.

High-dose vitamin C

The treatment: High doses of vitamin C are intravenously fed into the bloodstream. A number of clinical trials, mainly in the US, are researching this.

The evidence: So far no reliable evidence that intravenous high-dose vitamin C helps treat cancer. It also may interfere with how radiotherapy works.

Source: Cancer Research UK


Treatments at early stage testing

Cannabis Oil/CBD

While there is some evidence that cannabinoids might slow tumour growth in the laboratory, there is no sufficient evidence in patients yet to support this.

Many trials are ongoing. Cannabis is still classified as a class B drug in the UK, and as such it is illegal to possess or supply it. Cancer Research UK offers a detailed analysis of the the current research.

Hyperthermia

Hyperthermia (also called thermal therapy or thermotherapy) is a type of cancer treatment in which body tissue is exposed to high temperatures. Research has shown that high temperatures can damage and kill cancer cells, usually with minimal injury to normal tissues. Yet studies are still at an early stage, and it is not widely available.

The National Cancer Institute USA has more information on clinical trials.

Vapers rise 'to more than three million' in Britain

The number of vapers in Great Britain has topped three million for the first time – four times the number in 2012, according to a survey by Action on Smoking and Health.

Most use e-cigarettes because they have quit smoking and 40% are smokers who are trying to give up.

The estimations are based on a survey of 12,000 British adults.

But a “worrying” belief that vaping is as bad as smoking still exists, a King’s College London analysis found.

Earlier this year, Public Health England said e-cigarettes should be made available on prescription because of how successful they were in helping people give up smoking.

And a report by MPs in August said rules around e-cigarettes should be relaxed and their use on public transport debated.

Ash, the public health charity, said this survey suggested smokers were getting the message that switching to vaping could improve their health.

It estimates a 10% rise in e-cigarette users between 2017 and 2018, up from 2.9 to 3.2 million.

But there are still some smokers – about a third – who have never tried one.

Although increasing numbers of smokers now believe vaping is less harmful than smoking, 22% still think it is as bad or worse.

And among the general public, one in four adults believes it to be as harmful as tobacco.

Also from the survey, 17% correctly believed vaping to be a lot less harmful than smoking – but 23% said they didn’t know which was more harmful. This compared with 13% and 29% last year.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Ash, said: “UK policy is on the right track, with thousands of smokers making the switch to vaping and improving their health and little sign of non-smokers taking up vaping.

“But even more smokers could benefit if e-cigarettes were licensed as medicines and available on prescription.”

Dr Leonie Brose, from King’s College London, called the mistaken belief by some people that vaping was as harmful as smoking “worrying”.

“Campaigns from Public Health England and others to challenge these views are important and must continue,” she said.

The top three reasons ex-smokers gave for using e-cigarettes were:

  • to quit smoking (62%)
  • because they enjoyed it (11%)
  • to save money (10%)

Alison Cook, director of policy at the British Lung Foundation, said: “It’s really encouraging to see smokers using e-cigarettes to help them quit the much more harmful practice of smoking.”

She said doctors and pharmacists “should be very clear with people that there is a range of products available and that they can try vaping as a way to stop smoking”.

High School Musical inspires UK student's US college dream

Tilly Griffiths was inspired by High School Musical to attend an American university.

And after achieving three As and an A* in her A-levels, the 18-year-old, who has spinal muscular atrophy, has won a four-year scholarship to Stanford University.

Tilly, from Staffordshire, will also have 24-hour care funded by the NHS while she is in the US – the first time it has done so.

Mark Lawrenson's cancer diagnosis and other TV stars 'saved' by viewers

Football pundit Mark Lawrenson was recently given the all-clear following a cancer scare.

The former Liverpool defender was alerted to the “facial cancerous blemish” by a viewer of BBC One’s Football Focus.

In June, GP Alan Brennan emailed the BBC show to say he had observed a dark patch on Lawrenson’s face while watching the BBC football commentator on the television.

The 61-year-old pundit said he had been aware of the “blemish”, but had put it down to too much time in the sun in an era before regularly applying sun cream became the norm.

“Like a typical 60-year-old bloke, I had been putting it off rather than sorting it out.

“Your man gave me the kick up the backside to get it sorted,” he told BBC Breakfast, where he met Mr Brennan for the first time.

It’s not the first time someone has been diagnosed via the television.

Five years ago, Tarek El Moussa, a former estate agent and co-host of the US property show Flip or Flop, was alerted to a lump on his neck by a nurse who had seen him on the home makeover show.

Ryan Reade contacted cable channel HGTV who informed El Moussa of her concerns.

“I noticed that at certain angles, at certain times, it just caught my eye that Tarek had a lump on his throat,” Ms Reade told Today

“I thought it was something that needed to be brought to his attention.”

Mr El Moussa, who had been struggling with a smoker’s cough for some time, called Reade’s intervention a “lightbulb moment”.

Doctors confirmed that he had stage-2 thyroid cancer.

Within a month of the biopsy in 2013, El Moussa – now 37 – had his thyroid and lymph nodes removed and began radiation treatment. The presenter is now cancer-free.

“If it wasn’t for her… I would still be moving forward with my life with cancer in my body,” he said, on meeting Ms Reade.

Doctors have pointed out that a lump in the neck can sometimes be the only initial symptom of thyroid cancer, meaning it can take a couple of years before it is diagnosed.

Remarkably, a similar incident occurred on the same US network earlier this year when an ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctor in New York spotted a lump on the throat of a potential homebuyer on HGTV’s Beachfront Bargain Hunt: Renovation.

Nicole McGuinness had already overcome cancer once, having survived a Stage-4 brain tumour, but Dr Erich Voigt was concerned by a lump he spotted on her throat while watching the TV show.

‘Just a miracle’

On 5 May, he posted a message on his Facebook account, calling on his friends to help him get in touch with Nicole.

“I am watching a TV show and notice this woman has a left thyroid mass. She needs a sonogram and fine needle biopsy. I wonder if she knows and hope it’s benign. #beachfrontbargainhunt,” he wrote on Facebook, accompanied by footage of Ms McGuinness.

A month later, he posted that Nicole had been tracked down and had followed his advice. The biopsy had revealed thyroid cancer.

Speaking on Good Morning America, where the pair later met, Dr Voigt said he “felt obliged to help”. “I had to reach out,” he said.

Ms McGuinness, who does not have a Facebook account but was contacted by a friend of her mother’s who saw the post, thanked Dr Voigt “from the bottom of my heart”.

‘It’s just a miracle, in my opinion, that he happened to see this on television,’ she said. She is currently undergoing treatment.

Piers Morgan too, claims he had a lucky escape.

In December 2017, he was contacted by a melanoma expert who spotted a lesion on Mr Morgan’s chest while he was filming an ITV documentary about serial killers.

Gillian Nuttall, founder of Melanoma UK, urged the Good Morning Britain presenter to have the blemish checked.

“Piers, at the risk of sounding like a lunatic, I’m just watching your programme and there’s a blemish visible on your chest. Have you had it checked?” she emailed.

Morgan was quick to follow her advice and the blemish was removed on the advice of a “top dermatologist”.

“Much further delay, he informed me, and it might well have turned cancerous,” he said. “‘Give that lady a gold star!

“Oh the irony of a serial killer inadvertently helping to save my life.”

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