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This Week in the British Medical Journal: Mar 2, 2011

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In the British Medical Journal this week, a team of researchers report results of a cohort study to examine the association between smoking and the risk of invasive breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Nearly 80,000 women were enrolled, and the researchers found that compared with women who had never smoked, breast cancer risk was elevated by 9 percent among former smokers and 16 percent among current smokers. "Active smoking was associated with an increase in breast cancer risk among postmenopausal women. There was also a suggestion of an association between passive smoking and increased risk of breast cancer," the authors write.

Also in the British Medical Journal this week, medical oncologist Michael Crawford says the UK still needs more resources to diagnose cancer. The poor survival of people with colorectal cancer in the UK is associated with a later stage of the disease at diagnosis than in comparable countries, Crawford says. "Timeliness of diagnosis is a defining characteristic of high quality cancer care, and higher stage at diagnosis means that the UK is diagnosing bowel cancer late, not that others are diagnosing it early," he adds.

The University of Newcastle's Ray Moynihan reviews Over-diagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health this week. The book posits that some patients are being "overdiagnosed" with conditions that will never cause symptoms or result in death, and that the treatments may do them more harm than good. The best known example of this is prostate cancer, Moynihan says. "Concern has been widespread for years that mass screening programs may cause many men to be given a diagnosis and treated unnecessarily, sometimes with highly invasive and harmful procedures," he adds.

And finally, Ned Stafford eulogizes Arthur Schatzkin, the researcher who discovered that high fiber diets don't prevent colorectal cancer. His study caused clinicians to rethink the dietary suggestions they gave to patients, and he helped form a database that "has led to at least 100 scientific papers and continues to be used by nutrition and cancer researchers worldwide," Stafford says. Schatzkin died from brain cancer in January of this year.

The Scan

New Study Investigates Genomics of Fanconi Anemia Repair Pathway in Cancer

A Rockefeller University team reports in Nature that FA repair deficiency leads to structural variants that can contribute to genomic instability.

Study Reveals Potential Sex-Specific Role for Noncoding RNA in Depression

A long, noncoding RNA called FEDORA appears to be a sex-specific regulator of major depressive disorder, affecting more women, researchers report in Science Advances.

New mRNA Vaccines Offer Hope for Fighting Malaria

A George Washington University-led team has developed mRNA vaccines for malaria that appear to provide protection in mice, as they report in NPJ Vaccines.

Unique Germline Variants Found Among Black Prostate Cancer Patients

Through an exome sequencing study appearing in JCO Precision Oncology, researchers have found unique pathogenic or likely pathogenic variants within a cohort of Black prostate cancer patients.