Beating bowel cancer together

Our history

Discover the history of the UK's leading bowel cancer charity and the milestones we've achieved. 

1987 - The Britta Dolan Memorial Cancer Fund was founded

  • Patrick Dolan set up The Britta Dolan Memorial Cancer Fund, after his wife, Britta Dolan, died from bowel cancer. Patrick was frustrated with the lack of treatment options and support for bowel cancer patients in the UK, which meant he had to turn to specialists in America.
  • With the support of colleagues and friends, Patrick raised the equivalent of half a million pounds in donations of hepatic pumps and chemotherapy supplies and obtained financial support for Dr Tim Allen-Mersh and a research nurse to undertake clinical trials in the UK.


  • Dr Allen-Mersh published key research findings into the importance of treatment for liver metastases in bowel cancer patients. 
  • Our research nurses received an increasing numbers of enquiries from people newly diagnosed who were confused and unsure of how to approach and question their doctors.


  • The charity was renamed Colon Cancer Concern (CCC). 
  • A 24-hour information line was set up to help answer the growing number of enquiries about bowel cancer, operated by trained volunteers.


  • Another bowel cancer charity, Beating Bowel Cancer is launched. 


  • The information line becomes staffed by professional colorectal, stoma and oncology nurses.


  • We organise an ambitious national roadshow "Don't Blush, Look Before You Flush"; reaching 15 towns and cities over a six week period.


  • We are awarded a National Lottery Community Fund Grant, which funds three major awareness campaigns amongst larger employee workplaces, in pubs and in doctors' surgeries. 


  • We change our name to Bowel Cancer UK to convey the national nature of our work and reflect the increasingly widespread use of the term bowel cancer to describe the disease.
  • We open an office in Edinburgh. 


  • We win a number of awards for our work in support of patients' campaigning for greater access to treatments.
  • We win the first ever European grant made by the US based Amgen Foundation, to help raise awareness of the disease amongst BME communities and increase their take up of screening.


  • We employ our first specialist health promotion and training staff in England and Scotland and pilot our first health professionals training.


  • We begin working in Northern Ireland and raise funds to employ a specialist health promotion and training officer. 
  • Our volunteer outreach programme launches across the UK, where bowel cancer patients are trained to deliver awareness talks. 


  • We act as advisors on the Department of Health’s flagship Be Clear on Cancer campaign and produce a GP information toolkit which is distributed across England.
  • We gain Information Standard accreditation for our health information.


  • We celebrate our 25th anniversary with a reception hosted by Samantha Cameron at 10 Downing Street attended by patrons, actor Tom Hardy and actress Charlotte Riley. 
  • We deliver our first clinical training events – GP study days in Manchester and Birmingham and a nurse study day in Stirling, Scotland.
  • Our volunteer programme expands rapidly to around 100 people across the UK.


  • We launch our Never Too Young campaign to improve the diagnosis, treatment and care of bowel cancer patients under 50.
  • We act as advisors and support implementation of Scotland’s flagship Detect Cancer Early campaign.
  • We launch our endoscopy campaign to help address the UK’s lack of capacity, which is a huge barrier to early diagnosis.


  • We release our second endoscopy report and Never Too Young briefing on the identification of people at high risk of bowel cancer and surveillance screening.
  • Our Bowel Health and Screening resource, which supports people with learning disabilities and their carers, won the Special Award for Learning Disabilities at the BMA Patient Information Awards.



  • On World Cancer Day we publish our 2016 research strategy and launch our critical gaps in bowel cancer research project.
  • We are named Charity of the Year at the Charity Times Awards, which recognise best practice and excellence in the UK charity sector.
  • Our Chief Executive Deborah Alsina is awarded an MBE in the Queen’s 90th Birthday Honours list 2016, in recognition of her service to bowel cancer patients.
  • Along with Bowel Cancer Australia, Colon Cancer Alliance (US), Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada, and Fondation A.R.CA.D. (France) we launch the global Get Personal Campaign to make real change happen for people with advanced colorectal cancer.
  • Our ‘Younger people with bowel cancer: a guide for the under 50s’ was highly commended at the BMA Patient Information Awards.


  • For World Cancer Day we work with nine other charities to unite everyone in a simple but powerful life changing act – wearing a Unity Band® on Saturday 4 February.
  • The University of Exeter, in partnership with our Never Too Young campaign, Durham University and North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust publishes new research and a risk assessment tool to support GPs to identify the symptoms of a serious bowel condition for patients aged under 50.
  • In partnership with the Royal College of Surgeons of England, we announce £500,000 funding for bowel cancer surgical research to establish the UK’s first Colorectal Cancer Surgical Research Chair and establish a network of the charity’s Colorectal Cancer Surgical Research Fellows.
  • Our chief executive Deborah Alsina MBE is named Charity Chief Executive of the Year in the Third Sector Excellence Awards 2017.
  • We announce the appointment of a Head of Wales, which is the first time we’ve had a presence in the country. 
  • We were highly commended for two guides ‘Simple steps for good bowel health’ and ‘Your diet and lifestyle: living with and beyond bowel cancer guide’ at the BMA Patient Information awards (now called ‘Eating Well: a guide to diet and bowel cancer’).


  • On 1 January Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer join together to become the UK’s leading bowel cancer charity.
  • We were accepted as a member of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) and announce our first research grants funding to six projects focused on improving screening, understanding bowel cancer in the under 50s and understanding bowel cancer in high risk groups, in line with our research strategy.
  • Our merger was highlighted as best practice by HRH the Duke of Cambridge at the Charity Commission’s Annual Public Meeting.
  • Following extensive consultation and in partnership with a branding agency, we were delighted to launch a new brand for the charity in August.
  • We appointed Professor David Jayne from the University of Leeds to the position of Bowel Cancer UK / Royal College of Surgeons Colorectal Cancer Surgical Research Chair – the UK’s first such role.  Professor Jayne is responsible for driving forward the surgical research agenda in bowel (colorectal) cancer to further improve outcomes for bowel cancer patients.  Additionally we funded two further surgical research fellowships in partnership with the Royal College of Surgeons – in this programme we aim to identify and support the surgical research stars of tomorrow.
  • Delivering high quality information and support services for patients and their families continued to be a key strategic priority for the charity and of our investment. We were therefore pleased to appoint a new Director of Services for the charity who is driving forward the charity’s strategy in this area.
  • We handed in a petition to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Jeremy Hunt MP signed by over 445,000 people, calling for the bowel cancer screening age to be lowered from 60 to 50, in line with Scotland and international best practice. Later in the year we received a public commitment from the Prime Minister and Government in England and Wales to an optimal screening programme, with assurances this would include roll out of the new simpler to use and potentially more sensitive faecal immunochemical test (FIT) and reduction of the screening age to 50.
  • Our ‘Bowel cancer screening – a guide to the NHS bowel cancer screening programme in England’ was highly commended at the BMA Patient Information Awards.
  • Our Chief Executive Deborah Alsina MBE won Charity Principal of the Year at the Charity Times Awards.
  • We delivered our income target, raising the most ever for both charities combined - £4.21 million.


  • Our annual fundraiser, Step up for 30, was shortlisted for the Most Innovative Fundraising Event at the Charity Event Awards 2019.
  • Our new brand was shortlisted in the Brand Development category at the Third Sector Excellence Awards 2019.
  • Our 'Younger people with bowel cancer: a guide for the under 50s' was Highly Commended at the BMA Patient Information Awards in 2019.


  • After 10 years Deborah Alsina MBE announced she was leaving the charity in 2019, and we welcomed Genevieve Edwards as our new Chief Executive in February 2020. Genevieve joined us from the MS Society, bringing a wealth of experience from a range of senior roles at Marie Stopes International and the Terrence Higgins Trust.
  • We reacted and adapted to to best support people with bowel cancer. We worked tirelessly to push for the restoration and future protection of NHS cancer services, and to provide new information and services to support people with bowel cancer during these challenging times.
  • We joined 46 other cancer charities as part of One Cancer Voice. We sent a united message to governments across the UK: we stand ready to work with you to help plot a route out of the pandemic, and towards world-leading cancer services.
  • We launched our 'million missed opportunities' campaign, highlighting how a pause in bowel cancer screening due to COVID-19 had led to more than a million screening invitations not being sent out, and the impact this would have on diagnosing the disease.
  • We released our #NeverTooYoung report, which revealed the stark barriers facing diagnosis in people aged under 50, that they aren't being tested for genetic conditions, and are experiencing poor aftercare. More needs to be done and we're continuing to call for urgent policy changes, raising awareness and advocating on behalf of younger people with this disease.


  • We supported the No Butts bowel cancer awareness campaign on ITV's Lorraine show for several weeks in April. Before our patron tragically died, she fronted this important campaign featuring some of our amazing supporters, the show highlighted the importance of smashing the poo taboo, knowing the symptoms to look out for, and urging people to contact their GP if things don't feel right.
  • We helped secure the availability of several drugs to help treat advanced bowel cancer in the UK. This year saw the approval of Nivolumab in combination with Ipilimumab in England, Wales and Scotland, Encorafenib combined with Cetuximab in Scotland and Pembrolizumab in England, Wales and Scotland. These drugs offer new hope to an often overlooked group who continue to face limited treatment options.


  • We announced Richard Anderson as our new chair of trustees taking over from Patrick Figgis. Richard has over 30 years’ experience in healthcare and life science communications.
  • Inspired by our supporter Cara Hoofe, we launched our #GetOnARoll campaign calling on the nation’s supermarkets to put bowel cancer symptoms on their own brand loo roll, putting the symptoms where people need to see them most. It’s been incredible to see all major supermarkets adopt the initiative as well as big named brands such as Andrex.
  • We were deeply saddened by the death of our patron, Dame Deborah James. Deborah was a formidable supporter of the charity, who did so much to raise awareness of bowel cancer and make a difference to people affected by the disease. You can read the impact of Dame Deborah’s campaigning a year after her death here.
  • We opened a £200,000 investment in funding pilot grants into much needed bowel cancer research. The findings that emerge from these projects can be used to secure funds for larger projects that may lead to breakthroughs, helping to improve the detection and treatment of bowel cancer.
  • NICE (the National Institute for Clinical Excellence) announced approval of regorafenib, a new treatment for advanced bowel cancer in England and Wales following our input into the approval process gathering patient and carer voices.


  • We were delighted to announce, with the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, that we appointed Miss Farhat Din as Scotland’s first-ever Colorectal Cancer Surgical Research Chair. Her role will push forward surgical clinical trials to improve treatments and outcomes for people diagnosed with bowel cancer in Scotland.
  • We’ve committed to £200,000 of funding for bowel cancer research with a special focus on improving early diagnosis of the disease, from researching new methods to looking at reasons people don't take part in screening.
  • After five years of campaigning alongside patients and the clinical community, NHS England ended the ban on ‘treatment breaks’ for advanced bowel cancer patients. This means they’re able to take breaks from two drugs without having to pay thousands of pounds to continue treatment. These breaks are vital to allow other treatments, to recover from the side effects of treatment and to improve quality of life.
  • We launched our new five-year strategy, ‘On a Mission’. This sets out how we’ll continue to work relentlessly towards our vision of a future where nobody dies from bowel cancer. To get there, we have outlined an ambitious milestone that by 2028, more than 7 in 10 people will be diagnosed at stage 1 or 2. Right now, it's less than 4 in 10.
  • We were deeply saddened by the death of BBC journalist George Alagiah OBE. George has been a huge advocate for our work, supporting our campaign calling on the NHS to lower the bowel cancer screening age to 50, as well as giving his time and phenomenal broadcasting skills to hosting our podcast.
  • With the help of funding from the BowelBabe Fund we launched a set of pilot bowel cancer awareness roadshows in Liverpool, Belfast and Cardiff. With our inflatable bowel to hand, we’ll be raising awareness of symptoms and highlighting the importance of taking part in screening in these cities and are set to tour much more of the UK in 2024.
  • Our groundbreaking #GetOnARoll campaign was awarded the Charitable Campaign of the Year at the Communiqué Awards 2023 and the Corporate National Partnership of the Year with a Retailer at the Charity Times Awards 2023.
  • We were thrilled to announce Christina Lakin, the daughter of our founder, as our founding patron. Her passion and commitment, as well as her personal connection to our history, make her a truly invaluable asset.
  • The SMC (Scottich Medicines Consortium) announced the approval of regorafenib, a new treatment for advanced bowel cancer. This meant the drug became available in all four UK nations following our, and our community's, campaigning.

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