By Lauren Pecorino
There is a tendency to complain about policies when writing blogs, but I think it is time to commend the British campaigns and innovations in treatment. They have proven to be some of the best in the world and have had a major impact in the fight against cancer.
One of the best British campaigns is against cervical cancer. Getting personally posted invitations to attend your next PAP screening, supported by pamphlets of information, is something few women ignore. Those who try to ignore these invitations are rightly and relentlessly bombarded with regular reminders.
And, with the knowledge that a sexually transmitted virus, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), is responsible for all cases of cervical cancer, the UK implemented a national school-based HPV vaccination programme that has proven to yield high uptake. By 2009, 70 percent of 12-13 year olds in the UK were fully vaccinated. These results are admirable compared to the results of alternative on-demand provisions offered by other countries including the USA. Note that the vaccine is recommended for early teens as it is a preventative vaccine and not a therapeutic vaccine, and must be administered before the initiation of sexual activity for it to be effective. The vaccine prevents about 70% of cervical cancers caused by two specific strains of HPV. PAP screening is still important to catch cases that are not prevented by the vaccine. An added bonus of this campaign is that the same vaccine also protects against some head, neck, and anal cancers caused by HPV infections.
Another great British effort is towards the prevention of lung cancer. The anti-smoking adverts have been haunting, especially the most recent one released by the UK Department of Health that shows a tumor growing on a cigarette. It is brilliant. I wish I had designed it. The advert strikingly conveys the message that if you saw the damage smoking causes, you would not smoke. The percentage of male cigarette smokers have fallen from 55% in 1970 to 21% in 2010 and a decreasing number of deaths due to lung cancer has followed this trend.
The UK is also a model of good practice in that it is the only country in the world which has a network of free ‘stop-smoking’ services, recently supported by specialized training for National Health Service Stop Smoking practitioners.
We can help the national campaign at a personal level by being more opinionated and outspoken when it comes to letting those around us know that smoking is harmful and “uncool”- especially among the young. We must ensure the message is passed down to new generations.
Finally, the UK is at the leading edge in using stem cells to help replace organs damaged by cancer. Tracheal transplants using tracheal scaffolds from cadavers seeded with the patient’s own stem cells have been used to replace damaged tissue for patients with tracheal cancer. Currently scientists at University College London are developing very similar procedures to grow a new nose for a patient who had lost their nose to cancer. These innovative approaches are the result of a continuously open, well-supported but regulated stem cell research policy, not yet seen in the USA.
Well done Great Britain!
Lauren Pecorino received her PhD from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in Cell and Developmental Biology. She crossed the Atlantic to carry out a postdoctoral tenure at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, London. She is a Principal Lecturer at the University of Greenwich where teaches Cancer Biology and Therapeutics. The teaching of this course motivated her to write The Molecular Biology of Cancer: Mechanisms, Targets, and Therapeutics, now in its second edition. Feedback on the textbook posted on Amazon from a cancer patient drove her to write a book on cancer for a wider audience: Why Millions Survive Cancer: the Successes of Science.