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World Cancer Day is being observed on February 4 this year. This international day of awareness is organized by the Union for International Cancer Control, which hopes to have effective cancer screening programs worldwide; to educate people about how they can reduce their cancer risk through better lifestyle choices; to improve diagnostics; and to increase cancer survival rates by 2020, among other goals.

The World Cancer Research Fund International's latest statistics on cancer rates show that the number of worldwide cancer cases is expected to rise to 21 million by 2030 from 12.7 million cases reported in 2008. At the top of the list, lung cancer makes up 16.5 percent of all cancer in male patients, and 22.9 percent of cancer cases in women are breast cancer, the fund says.

Meanwhile, reports Pharmalot's Ed Silverman, an ongoing shortage of cancer drugs has international authorities and doctors concerned for the well-being of patients. A new survey of oncologists done by National Analysts Worldwide shows that some patients are dying sooner than they would with the proper medications, and that tumors are recurring more frequently.

New approaches to choosing treatment strategies are being explored however. Nature News reports that Norway is planning to become the first country in the world to allow the use of whole-genome sequencing in the clinic. "The Scandinavian nation, which has a population of 4.8 million, will use 'next-generation' DNA sequencers to trawl for mutations in tumors that might reveal which cancer treatments would be most effective," Nature says. Similar efforts are underway in the UK, and at research hospitals in the US, France, and elsewhere.

In Canada, the Vancouver Sun reports, several funding agencies and research institutions have come together to fund a C$9.8 million three-year study on the genomics of pediatric brain cancers in order to better match tumors to treatments. "Scientists will try to categorize brain tumors so some children with tumors considered low risk receive less treatment while others get harsher but 'smarter' therapy," the Sun reports.

The NORML blog reports that Israeli researchers at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, in conjunction with the Israeli Cancer Association, are assessing the effects of cannabis therapy in cancer patients. The team reported that 61 percent of patients given medical marijuana reported an improvement in the quality of their life, and their study concluded that cannabis should be offered to patients in the early stages of their disease.

In the UK, researchers from the University of Leeds report that some silver compounds can be just as toxic to cancer cells as platinum-based chemotherapy drug cisplatin, ScienceBlog says. Importantly, silver could be less toxic to normal cells than platinum is.

Finally, in the US, researchers at the Scripps Research Institute report a new fluid biopsy technique to find circulating cancer cells in the blood, reports the Press Association. The researchers found a way to attach fluorescent tags to cancer cells proteins, a technique that could help oncologists assess the progression of a patient's cancer much more quickly and accurately. And Gizmodo reports on Texas-based biotech company GenSpera, which is developing a precisely targeted cancer drug-delivery system. The company is using thapsigargin, the active ingredient in the thapsia plant, as a drug to kill tumor cells. But since thapsigargin also has the potential to destroy healthy cells, GenSpera researchers are trying to turn it into a "precise, cancer-killing grenade," without affecting healthy cells, Gizmodo says.

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