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 sets up The Britta Dolan Memorial Cancer Fund, after his wife, Britta Dolan, dies 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 obtains financial support for Dr Tim Allen-Mersh and a research nurse to undertake clinical trials in the UK.


  • Dr Allen-Mersh publishes key research findings into the importance of treatment for liver metastases in bowel cancer patients. 
  • Our research nurses receive 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 is set up to help answer the growing number of enquiries about bowel cancer, operated by trained volunteers.


  • 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.


  • 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 survivors of bowel cancer 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.
  • Lord Norman Foster, the eminent architect, becomes an ambassador for the charity.
  • 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 Julia Bradbury, Aldo Zilli, Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley. 
  • We deliver our first clinical training events – GP study days in Manchester and Birmingham and a nurse study day in Stirling, Scotland.
  • We publish our 2025 policy vision report.
  • 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 younger bowel cancer patients.
  • We act as advisors and support implementation of Scotland’s flagship Detect Cancer Early campaign.
  • We co-deliver, with the Roy Castle Lung Foundation, seven GP training sessions on screening.
  • We launch our endoscopy campaign to help address the UK’s lack of capacity which is a huge barrier to early diagnosis.


  • Following a strategic review, we close our telephone and email information and support service to focus on education and campaigning.
  • 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.
  • Colon Cancer Alliance, our partner charity in the US, join the Never Too Young campaign and launch in their country.
  • We win a British Medical Association (BMA) Patient Information Award for our learning disability resource. 


  • We announce our ambitious and bold move into research. 
  • Bowel Cancer Australia and the Colon Cancer Association of Canada join the Never Too Young campaign and launch in their own countries.
  • We join the Get Tested campaign on improving access to biomarker testing. 
  • We win a BMA Patient Information Award for our resource ‘Your diet: living with and beyond bowel cancer’ and publish a new booklet for younger patients ‘Younger people with bowel cancer: a guide for the over 50s’ as well as several films.
  • We gain Royal Society of Public Health accreditation for our volunteer outreach programme.


  • On World Cancer Day we publish our 2016 research strategy and launch a new research project which will bring together 100 clinicians and scientists to identify gaps in current research into bowel cancer which, if addressed, will help save the lives of thousands of people diagnosed with the disease.
  • We are named Charity of the Year at the Charity Times Awards which recognise best practice and excellence in the UK charity sector. The category, for charities with an income of between £1 million - £10 million, recognises those who the judges believe has consistently delivered outstanding service to its beneficiaries, promoted and raised its cause, been clear in its goals and strategy, and demonstrated excellence all round.
  • Our CEO 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.
  • We won the BMA Patient Patient Information award for our ‘Your diet: living with and beyond bowel cancer guide’ (now called ‘Eating Well: a guide to diet and bowel cancer’).


  • 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.
  • British actor Rupert Evans (The Man In The High Castle, American Pastoral) is appointed patron
  • 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 policy & campaigns team is shortlisted as a finalist for Campaigning Team of the Year in the Charity Times Awards 2017.
  • 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, Lowri Griffiths, which is the first time we’ve had a presence in the country. 
  • On World Metastatic Colorectal Cancer Day, we launch our new report, ‘Get Personal: Unlocking treatment options for advanced bowel cancer’showing that advanced bowel cancer patients are losing out on the opportunity to live longer because NHS clinical specialists are not included in treatment decisions and as a result are denied surgery that could extend their life.
  • We announce that Miss Marta Penna from Imperial College London and Oxford University Hospital has been awarded a jointly-funded fellowship between the charity and the Royal College of Surgeons of England – our very first Bowel Cancer UK/RCS Research Fellow.
  • We launch our long awaited report ‘Finding the Key to the Cures: a plan to end bowel cancer by 2050’.
  • Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer join together to become the UK’s leading bowel cancer charity.
  • 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’ (now called ‘Eating Well: a guide to diet and bowel cancer’).


  • Our Chief Executive, Deborah Alsina MBE, met HRH the Duke of Cambridge at the Charity Commission’s Annual Public Meeting at the Royal Institution. In his key note address, HRH specifically highlights our merger as an example of best practice and worthy of praise.
  • We become members of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) – a hallmark of quality research funding. 
  • We launch our new report 'Spotlight on bowel cancer in Wales' at The Senedd, Cardiff Bay.
  • We appoint the UK's first Bowel Cancer UK & RCS Eng Colorectal Research Chair, Professor David Jayne, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon.

  • We award six grants to fund bowel cancer research worth nearly £440,000.

  • We hand in a petition to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Jeremy Hunt MP. The petition, signed by over 445,000 people, calls for the bowel cancer screening age to be lowered from 60 to 50, in line with Scotland and international best practice.
  • Our ‘Bowel cancer screening – a guide to the NHS bowel cancer screening programme in England’ was highly commended at the BMA Patient Information Award.

  • Deborah Alsina MBE won Charity Principal of the Year at the Charity Times Awards.


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