Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and second biggest cancer killer. However, it is treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early. Nearly everyone diagnosed at the earliest stage will survive bowel cancer but this drops significantly as the disease develops.
The major advances in saving lives from bowel cancer in the past 20 years have all come through research. Therefore, through strategic investment in targeted research, we will deliver improvements in bowel cancer survival in our lifetime.
Our ambition is to transform bowel cancer survival rates, increasing the number of people surviving bowel cancer within five years of diagnosis from 50% to 75% by 2025. The only way we’ll achieve this is by supporting the most impactful research into bowel cancer.
Our research strategy is focused on four key areas:
- Investigating the gaps in bowel cancer research
- Understanding bowel cancer in younger people
- Improving surgery for bowel cancer patients
- Putting patients at the heart of research
Investigating the gaps in bowel cancer research - our critical gaps project
We’re bringing together 100 leading bowel cancer experts to identify gaps in bowel cancer research which, if addressed, will help save thousands of lives. This landmark study will be the most comprehensive review of bowel cancer research ever to take place in the UK.
The experts have been grouped into eight different working groups, each covering a different theme.
- Screening and early diagnosis
- Curative treatment
- Stage 4 disease
- Living with and beyond bowel cancer
- Basic science
- Pathology, imaging and diagnostics
Since announcing the project on World Cancer Day on 4 February, surgeons, oncologists, researchers and many other professionals have travelled from across the UK to meet in their working groups and discuss the gaps across their areas.
The discussions have been extremely interesting with lots of healthy debate around what really are the gaps in our current knowledge and how we could shape the bowel cancer research agenda in the future.
The final working group meetings took place in July and then we worked with the Chairs of each of the eight groups to create reports on each topic.
This process gave us a fantastic snapshot of what academics thought but it was vital that the views of patients, carers and those more widely affected by bowel cancer are central to the outcome of the study. We held a patient panel in August where nearly 30 people gave us their views on the priorities identified in the reports and helped guide the recommendations for the final publication.
The feedback from the patient panel and reports will now be considered by our Steering Group who meet at the end of September. We will then write a final academic paper which will be submitted to a scientific journal by the end of the year. We are looking to launch the findings of the project in spring 2017.
This project has the power to act as a catalyst for change and save thousands more lives in the future. The findings will influence future bowel cancer research, help fund projects that are going to make a real difference for patients and highlight the gaps in research where we and the research community can have the greatest positive impact.
We look forward to keeping you up to date on the progress of the 'critical gaps in bowel cancer research' project.
The project is co-chaired by Professor Richard Wilson, Clinical Director, Northern Ireland Cancer Trials Centre and Network at Queen's University Belfast and Chair of the National Clinical Research Institute clinical studies group, and Professor Ian Tomlinson from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford.
Professor Richard Wilson said: “I'm delighted to be involved in this study which is a ground-breaking initiative. Never before has such an ambitious, wide-ranging project been undertaken to identify key gaps in bowel cancer research. It has huge potential to make a real difference for patients."
We are also working closely with the National Cancer Research Institute Colorectal Cancer Studies Group (CSG) and Association of Coloproctology for Great Britain and Ireland.
Understanding bowel cancer in younger people
In the UK more than 2,400 younger people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year, the majority with advanced disease. Our Never Too Young campaign highlighted one of the reasons for this is there are serious delays in bowel cancer diagnosis in people under 50. We know that research is desperately needed to understand more about younger people at higher risk of bowel cancer. We will support research that allows us to better identify people with hereditary and other risk factors that put them at higher risk of the disease. For example, we want to fast-track research into understanding which people with a strong family history of bowel cancer, but not a known genetic condition, are at increased risk so we can prevent and detect worrying changes early.
We are currently working with experts to improve the identification and management of people with a genetic condition that increase the risk of bowel cancer. In March we worked with the Association of Coloproctology for Great Britain and Ireland, the British Society of Gastroenterology, National Cancer Research Institute colorectal studies group and other stakeholders to bring together the UK’s leading experts from genetics, screening, cancer registration and gastroenterology to develop a plan for driving positive change.
Improving surgery for bowel cancer patients
The most common bowel cancer treatment is surgery, yet only five per cent of clinical trials in the UK are focused on surgery. We want to ensure all bowel cancer patients have access to clinical trials and receive the best possible surgical treatment.
There is huge potential to advance the care of surgical patients if the number of surgical trials can be significantly increased. This will particularly help to develop more successful and personalised treatment for bowel cancer patients. Without these trials, technological advances will be adopted more slowly, less uniformly and less safely; and this presents a major limiting factor in improving surgical care for patients.
In partnership with the Royal College of Surgeons, we are seeking to establish a Colorectal Cancer Surgical Research Chair in England to help develop:
- New and innovative surgical treatments for bowel cancer
- Partnerships to increase the number of surgical clinical trials for bowel cancer patients in the UK
- Strategies to recruit more patients into existing clinical trials.
We are also looking to expand the expertise available to develop new innovative methodologies for complex surgical interventions and the best studies to ensure rapid and safe delivery to patients. To achieve this, the Royal College of Surgeons is seeking to establish seven new independent professorial chairs in surgical trials, starting in 2017. These professors will be appointed in collaboration with leading UK universities and we have agreed that one of the Chairs will be dedicated to bowel cancer.
We have also agreed to work with the Royal College to establish a network of Bowel Cancer UK Surgical Research Fellows around the UK to help create the next generation of leading colorectal surgeons. Over many years, fellows have extended the frontiers of surgery through clinical research and the development of new operative techniques and through their fellowships programme helped to develop some of the UK’s leading surgeons of today.
Putting patients at the heart of research
People with bowel cancer and their families should have a say in the work we do, including the research we support, and be able to influence research projects and clinical trials as they develop across the UK. We’re committed to developing a Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) strategy and training programme, by drawing on existing resources and good practice in PPI to develop a strong network of patient advocates.
We are already partnering with a number of leading clinicans, institutions and academics across the UK. Read about our current research projects
Never before has such an ambitious, wide-ranging project been undertaken to identify key gaps in bowel cancer research. It has huge potential to make a real difference for patients. Professor Richard Wilson