Bowel cancer: Support life-saving research into the causes of bowel cancer

Last updated: 27/07/2012

Why this research is needed

Young smiling female scientist in the labOver 41,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK, making it the third most common cancer in the country.

Surgery is the main treatment option for most people with bowel cancer.  Patients may also have chemotherapy and radiotherapy as well to destroy any cancer cells that might have been left behind after surgery.

One in two people diagnosed with bowel cancer now survive their disease for at least five years, twice as many as 40 years ago.  But one in two people is not enough and more research is needed into the causes of bowel cancer and how the disease develops.

The impact of our work

Researchers for this project are investigating the molecular changes that cause bowel cancer. This kind of research will help doctors to understand how bowel cancer develops and will eventually lead to new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease.

 
 
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Understanding the changes behind bowel cancer

Scientists have recently developed something called the 'cancer stem cell' concept - the idea that the root cause of many cancers is a small group of immortal stem cells which are often resistant to cancer treatments.

Dr Owen Sansom's research focuses on the stem cells that line the intestine and their role in bowel cancer. Together with his team he has found evidence that damaged stem cells in the bowel may be behind the development of bowel cancer.

They discovered that when a crucial gene, APC, is switched off in healthy bowel stem cells, aggressive tumours developed within days and quickly started spreading.

When the same gene was switched off in the cells that line the inside of the bowel, tumours also developed, but not as fast or often as in the stem cells case.

Although scientists already know that switching off APC in cells could lead to bowel cancer, these results suggest that the disease is more likely to develop from the stem cells rather than normal tissue.

The impact of this research

Further research is needed to find out if stem cells play a vital role in human bowel cancer. Dr Sansom and his team are working hard to understand these processes to really get to grips with the changes that are associated with bowel cancer. 

Targeting these faulty stem cells could enable doctors to treat more effectively, or even prevent, bowel cancer. 

Please donate now to support life-saving research into this disease.