Help us to stop bowel cancer

Why we’re investing in surgical bowel cancer research

This week, in partnership with the Royal College of Surgeons of England, we announced our half a million pound investment into surgical bowel cancer research. We will deliver vital improvements in surgical treatment and care by establishing UK’s first ever Colorectal Cancer Surgical Research Chair – as well as supporting the next generation of colorectal surgeons - through a network of Bowel Cancer UK Colorectal Cancer Surgical Research Fellows.

Professor Dion Morton, Director of Clinical Research at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, explains why surgical trials are so crucial and what this significant investment could mean for bowel cancer patients in the future.

Why are surgical clinical trials so important?

Surgery is fundamental to saving the lives of bowel cancer patients. Surgical trials have the ability to make huge impacts to the way surgery is delivered across the UK. We know that variation exists between the treatment and care people with bowel cancer receive. Clinical trials give surgeons the opportunity to learn from each other, share best practice, and help ensure the most effective treatments are readily available to patients.

What breakthroughs have we seen from surgical trials?

Thanks to surgical trials spanning 30 years, we now have more effective surgical techniques than ever before, introducing better surgery through major trials of minimal access surgery and laparoscopy (also known as keyhole surgery), as well as an understanding of the best combinations of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.  As an example, MRCR07 trial is introducing radiotherapy before surgery for rectal cancer and the FOxTROT trial is testing pre-surgery chemotherapy for colon cancer.

Advances in combining new therapies with surgery require that the impact upon the safety of subsequent surgery is carefully tested. Surgeons play an essential role in this process.

Why are there so few clinical trials focused on surgery at the moment?

Surgical trials are challenging for patients as well as surgeons. There are difficulties in both design and delivery of these studies, as they involve many factors that are hard to control in advance of the trial. No two patients are the same, so surgeons often have to make split second decisions about how to deliver surgery. Surgical trials involve having to standardise how surgery is delivered across the board, this makes it much more complex than most drug trials.

But for all the reasons surgical trials are more challenging, when successful, they can lead to much greater patient benefits. Increasing funding and expertise in this area is crucial to ensuring patients receive the best possible surgical treatment in the future.

How will this investment in bowel cancer surgical research help?

Clinical trials are the only way we can drive forward real progress to improve bowel cancer treatment and care.  Through establishing a dedicated Colorectal Cancer Surgical Research Chair and network of Surgical Research Fellows we hope to increase the number and accessibility of clinical trials, accelerate development of new and innovative treatments and help secure the next generation of leading colorectal cancer surgeons. 

Professor Dion Morton, Director of Clinical Research at the Royal College Surgeons of England