Almost 332,000 people living in the UK will needlessly lose their lives to bowel cancer by 2035 unless urgent action is taken to fill critical research gaps, a leading charity has warned.
Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer with 16,000 people dying from the disease each year. It’s also the fourth most common cancer with over 41,200 diagnosed annually.
Bowel Cancer UK worked with 100 leading scientists, healthcare professionals and people affected by the disease to identify the key research gaps and priorities in bowel cancer research that need to be tackled to save lives.
The charity is now calling on the general public to help fundraise and raise awareness.
Early diagnosis is vital for reducing the high death rates surrounding the disease, however it can be difficult to detect as symptoms are often attributed to more common, but less serious, conditions.
Symptoms of bowel cancer include: bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo, a change in bowel habit lasting three weeks or more, extreme tiredness for no obvious reason, unexplained weight loss and a pain or lump in your tummy.
Nearly 98% of people will survive bowel cancer for five years or more if detected at stage 1 compared with less than one in 10 people who are diagnosed at stage 4.
Bowel Cancer UK has published a new report, ‘Finding the key to the cures: a plan to end bowel cancer by 2050’, which sets out 15 questions with vital recommendations to address gaps in research.
Deborah Alsina, chief executive of the charity, said: “The harsh reality is that every year 16,000 people lose their lives to the disease, and if left unchecked, this number will only increase in the future. The need for speed prompted us to take action to identify a plan to accelerate bowel cancer research.
“This report will act as a catalyst to encourage much needed collaboration, build research capacity and help shape the future of bowel cancer research. Through strategic investment in targeted research, we will deliver improvements for bowel cancer patients.”
The report reveals fifteen key research questions:
1. How do our genes, lifestyles and the environment we live in affect risk of bowel cancer?
2. How can we improve the bowel cancer screening programme?
3. Can we develop new treatment options with the potential to cure people of bowel cancer?
4. How can we improve quality of life for people living with and beyond bowel cancer?
5. What’s the best way to improve communication between healthcare professionals and patients?
6. What’s the best way to identify which patients would most benefit from further diagnostic tests?
7. How can we more accurately understand the characteristics of bowel cancer?
8. Can we accelerate progress by employing and training more pathology and laboratory staff to apply the latest tools and techniques?
9. How can we better assess and communicate risks, benefits and uncertainty about treatment that could potentially cure people of bowel cancer?
10. Can we develop new treatment options with the potential to cure people with bowel cancer?
11. Can we improve understanding of the relationship between advanced bowel cancer and the environment around it in the body to create better treatment options?
12. What are the most reliable biomarkers to help determine best treatment options for people with advanced bowel cancer?
13. How can we improve quality of life for people living with and beyond bowel cancer?
14. How can we better coordinate bowel cancer research and how it’s funded?
15. What’s the best way to improve communication between healthcare professionals and patients?
Alsina added: “By 2028 we want to see the number of people surviving for at least five years to increase from 60% to 75%, this means thousands more people surviving bowel cancer each year. This will take us one step closer to our long term goal, that by 2050 no one dies of bowel cancer.
“Research is the key to finding the cures to bowel cancer.”
Professor Mark Lawler, lead author and chairperson in Translational Cancer Genomics, Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, Queen’s University Belfast, said: “We have identified the key research priorities that have the greatest potential to benefit patients over the next five years and beyond.
“This landmark report is the step change needed to energise the research community to stop this deadly disease in its tracks.”