Beating bowel cancer together

Our research achievements

Research progress report 2017-2022

Following our work on the critical research gaps initiative, we launched our research strategy for 2017 to 2022. Looking back at these years of our research, we’re proud of what we achieved.

The major advances in saving lives from bowel cancer in the past 20 years have all come through research, which is a driving force for positive change for patients and will help to deliver improvements in bowel cancer survival in our lifetime.

Between 2017-2022, we've invested £1.34 million to support research in five key areas:

Identifying ways of preventing bowel cancer


Research estimates that over half of all bowel cancer cases could be prevented through lifestyle changes, such as lowering alcohol intake, eating a balanced diet and being more physically active.

Understanding the most effective ways to prevent bowel cancer helps us to give the best guidance to people to reduce their risk.

An image of Miss Roshani Patel, in front of a grey background

Project spotlight:

Predicting what happens after surgery for patients with familial adenomatous polyposis

Miss Roshani Patel - Imperial College London

Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) is a rare genetic condition that greatly increases a person’s chance of developing bowel cancer. Roshani Patel, our Bowel Cancer UK/RCS Research Fellow, explored why some people with FAP are still at risk of developing bowel cancer following surgery.

Read more about this research

Improving bowel cancer screening


Bowel cancer is treatable and curable when diagnosed early. Nine in ten people will survive for five years or more if they’re diagnosed at stage 1, but this drops to one in ten for people diagnosed at stage 4. Bowel cancer screening is key to diagnosing as many people as possible at those earlier stages, giving them the best chance of survival.

An image of Dr Juliet Usher-Smith, in front of a grey background

Project spotlight:

Using lifestyle or genetic information to decide screening starting age

Dr Juliet Usher-Smith - University of Cambridge

Research has already shown that the national bowel cancer screening programme can save lives. In this project, Dr Usher-Smith and her colleagues looked at whether more information on lifestyle factors or genes could help improve the screening programme further.

Read more about this research

Understanding and identifying people at high risk of bowel cancer

 

Not everybody has the same risk of bowel cancer. Some people will have a higher risk due to their family history of the disease, or because they have another condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease.

It’s important that we develop ways to identify people at higher risk, so they have access to the right support.

An image of Professor Sir John Burn and Dr Jem Rashbass

Project spotlight:

A national Lynch syndrome registry

Professor Sir John Burn and Dr Jem Rashbass - Newcastle University

Lynch syndrome is a genetic condition that increases the lifetime risk of bowel cancer to up to 80%. Professor Sir John Burn, working with Dr Jem Rashbass at Health Data Insight CiC, created a national registry of people with Lynch syndrome to help inform surveillance, treatment and care of people with the condition.

Read more about this research

Understanding bowel cancer in the under 50s


Although bowel cancer gets more common with age, it’s increasing in people under 50 – in England, the number of people under 50 diagnosed with bowel cancer rose by nearly 80% between 2001 and 2019 (based on data accessed on 7 November 2023).

We’re working to understand why bowel cancer numbers are increasing in the under 50s, if these bowel cancer cases have different characteristics compared to older people, and how we can diagnose younger people quicker.

An image of Dr Claire Palles in a research facility

Project spotlight:

The genes involved in bowel cancer in younger people

Dr Claire Palles - University of Birmingham

Dr Palles and team looked in detail at the genes of younger bowel cancer patients to help better identify people at higher risk of the disease in the future. 

Read more about this research

Ensuring best treatment and care for all bowel cancer patients


It’s essential that every bowel cancer patient gets the best possible treatment tailored to their disease, and is given all necessary support to live a full life after their diagnosis.

This is why we support research to keep developing and improving surgical techniques, to reduce treatment side effects and to explore how new technologies and uses of data can benefit patients.

A black and white image of Mr Joshua Burke

Project spotlight:

Reducing complications after bowel cancer surgery

Mr Joshua Burke - University of Leeds

Bowel Cancer UK/RCS Research Fellow, Mr Joshua Burke, looked at ways to reduce a serious complication of bowel cancer surgery. He also looked to see if a special type of stem cell will help improve healing after surgery and reduce the chance of a complication known as ‘anastomotic leak’.

Read more about this research

Our report further outlines these five areas and shares more detail about our research programme. It looks at the impact research has had, other research we have funded during this time and summaries how our research will help towards our strategy, On a Mission.

This is our way of celebrating the impact and successes of our research programme. We wish to say a huge thank you to all our patients, researchers, clinicians and supporters for their continued efforts and our Scientific Advisory Board and Lay Review Panel for giving their time and expertise to help us fund high quality research.

Read the report

The front cover of our Research Progress Report for 2017-2022. It has a large version of our Star of Hope in white, teal and yellow, on top of a bright teal background

Critical gaps

The critical research gaps initiative aimed to identify the key bowel cancer research gaps and recommendations with the greatest potential to benefit patients and ultimately save lives.

How did the process work?

Over a two year period from 2015-2017, a diverse range of almost 100 leading cancer scientists, healthcare professionals and people affected by bowel cancer came together to identify the key research gaps and priorities in bowel cancer research.

Participants formed eight working groups, covering different themes across the patient pathway:

  • Discovery science
  • Risk
  • Prevention
  • Early diagnosis and screening
  • Pathology: diagnosis-prognosis-prediction 
  • Curative treatment
  • Stage 4 bowel cancer
  • Living with and beyond bowel cancer

A comprehensive process of questionnaires, meetings and prioritisation exercises ultimately led to a list of key research gaps and recommendations for the future.

The findings

The identified gaps and recommendations cover the breadth of the bowel cancer patient pathway, from laboratory research investigating how and why bowel cancer develops, determining who’s at highest risk and how to prevent bowel cancer developing in the first place, to diagnosing at the earliest stage and providing the best treatment and care to everyone living with and beyond the disease.

There were also a number of cross-cutting issues, including the need for greater collaboration, improved communications between healthcare professionals and patients and improved data sharing.

The findings were published in the leading international scientific journal Gut and in our summary report ‘Finding the Key to the Cures: a plan to end bowel cancer by 2050’.

Next steps

Identifying the gaps and recommendations is only the first step. We will lead by example, but need others to join us. We’re determined to establish a strong research agenda, enable patients to influence and shape the future of bowel cancer research, build research capacity and facilitate collaboration across the research community.

We launched our new five year research strategy in 2017 and have funded our first research projects. We have also worked with the Royal College of Surgeons to support a range of surgical research, building capacity and supporting the research stars of tomorrow

Bowel cancer in younger people

We're campaigning for better diagnosis, treatment and care for bowel cancer patients under 50, as well as researching more into understanding the risk in younger people.

Risk tool for younger people with bowel symptoms

We championed the creation of and gained funding for a cutting edge research project to help speed up diagnosis of younger bowel cancer patients. The research was led by researchers at the University of Exeter and Durham University.

The researchers calculated risk of serious bowel disease and bowel cancer, based on patient symptoms. They used these risk values to create a risk assessment tool, which can be used by GPs to decide which patients should be referred for further investigation.

The results are published in the British Journal of General Practice.

Never too young

We're campaigning for better diagnosis, treatment and care for bowel cancer patients under 50 as part of our Never Too Young campaign. We're also funding vital research in this area to help us understand more about bowel cancer in this group of people.

Back to our research

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