Beating bowel cancer together

A round up of exciting new bowel cancer research announced at ASCO

Tuesday 20 June 2023

We have been following the news and research which emerged from the world’s largest cancer conference, the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). This June, in Chicago, hundreds of healthcare professionals came together to share knowledge and insights relating to all aspects of cancer research and care.

The conference aims to improve patients' lives through collaboration, research, and innovation and attracts a wide range of cancer professionals including oncologists, researchers, bioinformatics specialists, and patient advocates. This year’s theme was partnering with patients as the cornerstone of cancer care and research. In this blog, we look at the main research highlights relevant to bowel cancer patients.

Early promise for multi-cancer blood test

Promising results of an early UK clinical trial into the Galleri blood test were presented by researchers at the University of Oxford and published in The Lancet Oncology journal. The Galleri test looks for distinct changes in bits of genetic code that leak from different cancers. The study, called SYMPLIFY, showed that the test was correctly able to identify two out of every three cancers among 5,000 people who had visited their GP with symptoms. Although not accurate enough to "rule in or rule out cancer", this test may help find the primary cancer source in those patients who present with symptoms of advanced disease. The NHS believes this study is the first step in testing a new way to identify cancer as quickly as possible. Earlier detection of cancer is vital, and this test could help to catch more cancers at an earlier stage with potential to save lives.

The NHS has also been using the Galleri test on thousands of people without symptoms, to see if it can detect ‘hard to spot’ cancers, like bowel, lung, and throat cancers. Results are expected next year and, if successful, NHS England plan to extend the rollout to a further one million people over the next couple of years.

Omitting Radiation in Rectal Cancer: 'Less Is More'

The PROSPECT trial is a US study funded by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health. Researchers wanted to learn if using chemotherapy alone would be as effective as chemoradiation before surgery. The study has shown that having chemotherapy alone, with radiation therapy added only if tumours do not respond, is an effective treatment option before surgery for people with locally advanced rectal cancer. This treatment option is beneficial in avoiding the short-term and long-term side effects of radiation therapy, with results published in The New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Oncology. This research has real benefit to patients as radiation therapy has side effects that negatively impact quality of life, which include fertility problems, the need for an ostomy, diarrhoea, inability to control bowel movements, and bladder problems.

Oncologists raise alarm over impact on healthcare systems due to rising needs of older patients

Key speakers including Dr Julie Gralow, the chief medical officer and executive vice-president of ASCO, highlighted the need for healthcare systems to act to avoid being overwhelmed by the dramatic rise in older cancer patients. Older age is a well-established risk factor for cancer but the importance of incorporating older-adult–specific assessments into cancer diagnosis, care and treatment has been under-recognised for years. Including the need to include older patients in trials so that we can better understand the effectiveness of therapies on this population. Older patients are also more likely to be taking medicines for other ailments, making cancer treatment more complicated and research is needed to assess the impact on healthcare systems due to patients' rising need for specific care.

And finally…

Key themes of the conference included the use of technology and data science in driving innovation and advances in healthcare, which was a common thread in many sessions. The need to put the patient front and centre in research and during its translation into improvements in treatment and care was another. We’ll be watching with interest as ideas are translated into reality.


a researcher handles samples in vials in a lab

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