Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Canada rate cut amid credit fears

The Bank of Canada has cut interest rates for the first time since April 2004, saying that the global economic outlook looked uncertain.

It cut rates by a quarter of a percentage point to 4.25% from 4.5%.

The central bank said that it expected financial market turmoil, stemming from a collapse of the US sub-prime mortgage market, to persist.

Canada's surprise cut raised the chances of a cut in interest rates by the Bank of England, analysts said.

Canada's central bank said that credit costs in the country had tightened and it expected a slowing US economy to suppress demand for Canadian exports.

The rate cut weakened the Canadian dollar, which fell sharply against the US dollar, and may help boost demand for exports as they were now cheaper.

Tight call

The Bank of England is due to announce its decision on interest rates this Thursday after a two-day meeting of its Monetary Policy Committee.

Most economists had expected rates to remain at 5.75% but analysts on Tuesday said Canada's move had made the decision a tighter call.

"The Bank of Canada...surprised the market and came out with a cut, and probably this is increasing the odds in the market that the Bank of England will also act," said Sebastien Galy, a currency analyst at Dresdner Kleinwort.

The European Central Bank also meets on Thursday to decide on interest rates for the 13 nations that use the euro.

It is expected to keep rates on hold at 4%.

The Federal Reserve is expected to cut US rates by a quarter of a percentage point next week, with some analysts forecasting a larger half-a-percentage point cut

US mortgage giant in share issue

US mortgage giant Fannie Mae is to sell $7bn of shares to raise money to cushion itself against losses in sub-prime home loans.

The additional capital will allow the company to "manage increased risk in the housing and credit markets".

Fannie Mae, which finances or guarantees one of every five home loans in the United States, will also cut its dividend by 30%.

This follows similar moves by smaller rival Freddie Mac.

Fannie Mae last month reported a third-quarter loss of $1.4 bn.

Bad times

The company said that worsening housing and credit markets will hurt its fourth quarter and 2008 results.

"Fannie Mae has a responsibility to serve the mortgage market in good times and in times like these," Daniel Mudd, Fannie Mae's chief executive officer, said in a statement.

"The steps we are taking today are designed to enable us to meet that responsibility."

Its sister firm Freddie Mac said last month it is to sell $6bn of shares to cover more bad debt losses.

Higher mortgage rates

The ongoing US mortgage industry crisis has been caused by record loan defaults in the sub-prime sector, which specialises in higher risk loans to people on lower incomes or those with poor credit histories.

The record defaults over the past year have been sparked by higher US mortgage rates.

This has subsequently spread to the wider credit markets, as most of the sub-prime mortgage debt was repackaged into wider debt offerings which were then sold on.

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were created by the US government but later privatised.

They are still known as government-sponsored enterprises and are still able to borrow at a lower rate of interest because bond markets believe that the US government would not allow them to go bankrupt

Plan to boost cancer patient care

Plans for reform of cancer services in England have been set out by ministers.

Cancer survival in the UK is still below the European average, despite recent improvements and the publication of the first Cancer Plan in 2000.

The plans, unveiled by Health Secretary Alan Johnson, will be underpinned by a £370m investment by 2010.

They include speeding up drug approval, more money for radiotherapy services and a possible clampdown on sun beds and cigarette vending machines.

Breast and bowel cancer screening programmes will be extended.

There will be a greater emphasis on preventing cancer, and providing more support for people living with the long-term effects of the disease.

Ministers - mindful that smoking is linked to one in three cancers - will test public opinion on whether to ban cigarette vending machines, and reduce cigarette displays in shops.


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They also plan a review of regulation and use of sun beds to try to cut cases of skin cancer, which has been rising in recent years.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the service reforms would serve as a "road map to a higher standard of care available to all".

But the Conservatives said the announcement amounts to an admission of failure, and said the government's original Cancer Plan had failed to deliver its promises.

Key elements of the NHS Cancer Reform Strategy include:

* £200m investment to boost radiotherapy capacity over the next three years, with cash for new equipment and staff.

* Where possible, cancer drugs will be assessed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) at the same time as they go through the licensing process to make them available to patients more quickly.

* Measures to improve detection of cancer in primary care.

* Extension of the NHS breast cancer screening programme to all women aged 47 to 73 by 2012.

* Extension of the NHS bowel screening programme from 2010 to all men and women aged 70 to 75.

Cancer survival rates have improved massively in recent years - around 50% of people now live for more than five years after a cancer diagnosis.


I want to build world class-cancer services that give NHS patients access to top quality treatment at every stage
Alan Johnson
Health Secretary

European cancer incidence
Mortality rates around Europe

However, more people are now getting the disease, and it still kills around 125,000 people in England every year.

Mr Brown said the plan demonstrated the "very highest priority" attached to fighting the disease.

He said: "We must do more to ensure treatment is of the highest quality and I believe this plan can act as a road map to a higher standard of care, available to all."

Mr Johnson said: "Clinicians, patients and cancer charities tell us that cancer care has improved significantly in the last 10 years thanks to investment and reform, but I am determined to go further.

"I want to build world class-cancer services that give NHS patients access to top quality treatment at every stage."

Shorter waits

Dr Mike Williams, vice president the Royal Society of Radiologists, welcomed the investment in radiotherapy.

He said at present about half of radiotherapy patients waited longer than the government target of 31 days for treatment.

Dr Richard Barker, director general of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, warned plans to speed up NICE assessment of drugs may not be practical.

He said: "With most medicines it is difficult to assess medicines' cost-effectiveness at launch - the relevant data are simply not available - and this is especially true of cancer medicines."

Professor Karol Sikora, a cancer expert at Imperial College School of Medicine, said he was not confident the new strategy would have the desired effect.

He said the UK was good at treating rarer cancers, but less impressive at dealing with the most common forms of the disease, such as breast, bowel, prostate and lung.

He said: "The real way forward is to delegate the problem to the specialists on the ground who know what they are doing."

Shadow health minister Mark Simmonds said: "Gordon Brown and Alan Johnson have been forced to admit their failure to achieve the best cancer survival rates in Europe, despite the huge amount of money they've spent on trying.

"What is saddening is that if the UK achieved European-best levels of cancer survival rates then 95 lives each day could be saved."

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, warned that the government had previously failed to secure value for money in the NHS.

He said the key would be to tackle the fact that the most disadvantaged groups in society were at the greatest risk of serious disease, such as cancer.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Cancer: The facts

One in three of us will be diagnosed with cancer during our life.

The disease tends to affect older people - but can strike at any time.

Excluding certain skin cancers, there were more than 270,000 new cases of the disease in 2001 - and the rate is increasing by about 1% a year.

Some cancer, such as breast, are becoming more common, while new cases of lung cancer fall away due to the drop in the number of smokers.

However, while the overall number of new cancers is not falling, the good news is that successful treatment rates for many of the most common types are improving rapidly.

BBC News Online has produced, in conjunction with Cancer Research UK, a guide to some of the most common forms of cancer and the treatments used to tackle them.

To learn more about different types of cancer, and to read the experiences of patients, click on the links to the right.

Burned foods' linked to cancers

Women who eat crisps or chips every day may double their chances of ovarian or womb cancer, say scientists.

The fears surround acrylamides, chemicals produced when you fry, grill or roast a wide range of foods.

Dutch researchers quizzed 120,000 people on their eating habits, and found that women who ate more acrylamide appeared more at risk.

UK experts say other factors could be to blame, and urged women there was not need to panic.
General advice, resulting from this project, is to avoid overcooking when baking, frying or toasting carbohydrate-rich foods
EU spokesman


Laboratory tests highlighted as a possible danger five years ago, but the University of Maastricht study, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, is the first to find a link between acrylamides in the diet and cancer risk.

Food which has been coloured or burned by cooking is far more likely to contain acrylamides.

Food experts say it is virtually impossible to eliminate them from our diets altogether.

The Dutch study followed the 120,000 volunteers - 62,000 of whom were women - for 11 years after their initial questionnaire, during which time 327 of them developed endometrial (womb) cancer, and 300 developed ovarian cancer.

Analysis of these findings suggested that those who ate 40 micrograms of acrylamide a day - equivalent to half a pack of biscuits, a portion of chips or a single packet of crisps - were twice as likely to fall prey to these cancers compared with those who ate much less acrylamide.

Despite the size of the study, the researchers said that the results needed to be confirmed by other research.

Golden brown

In the UK, there are approximately 6,400 cases of womb cancer, and 7,000 cases of ovarian cancer a year.
Women shouldn't be unduly worried by this news
Lesley Walker
Cancer Research UK


A spokesman for the Food Standards Agency urged people to try a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables.

"This new study supports our current advice, which already assumes that acrylamide has the potential to be a human carcinogen.

"Since acrylamide forms naturally in a wide variety of cooked foods, it is not possible to have a healthy, balanced diet that avoids it."

Experts at the EU said that food should not be overcooked.

An EU spokesman said: "General advice, resulting from this project, is to avoid overcooking when baking, frying or toasting carbohydrate-rich foods.

"French fries and roast potatoes should be cooked to a golden yellow rather than golden brown colour."

However, Dr Lesley Walker, from Cancer Research UK said that it was hard to be sure that the extra cancers were due to just acrylamides, rather than some other unhealthy component of the women's diets.

"Women shouldn't be unduly worried by this news. It's not easy to separate out one component of the diet from all the others when studying the complex diets of ordinary people."

The food industry says it has made efforts to reduce the acrylamides within processed foods in recent years.

A study published in 2005 found no evidence that acrylamide increased the risk of breast cancer.Technorati Profile

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