Edinburgh scientists investigate possible ways to prevent bowel cancer

Cancer Research UK

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre have been given a cash boost from Cancer Research UK to help them investigate new ways to prevent bowel cancer.

Dr Lesley Stark and her team have been awarded a grant of over £160,000 from the charity to investigate how non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) act against bowel cancer in order to identify new drugs that could play a role in preventing this disease.

Each year around 36,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel cancer and over 16,000 people die from the disease, making it the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK.

More than 3,500 new cases of bowel cancer are diagnosed each year in Scotland. Although treatment is generally very successful if the disease is caught early, it is often diagnosed at a later stage, when it is more difficult to treat and more than 1,500 people die from the disease each year in Scotland.

In previous studies, also partly funded by Cancer Research UK, the University of Edinburgh team found that in bowel cancer cells treated with aspirin and similar NSAID drugs, a protein called RelA is moved into a specific part of the cell nucleus, the control centre of the cell. This causes the cells to self-destruct. Dr Stark and her team are now trying to understand more about how this process works.

There is a lot of evidence that aspirin and other NSAIDs may prevent bowel cancer but the side effects associated with taking these drugs means they cannot be used for long-term cancer prevention. However, Dr Stark hopes to develop new drugs that mimic the effect of aspirin on cancer cells, and hopes that these may be used for bowel cancer prevention in the future.

Dr Lesley Stark said: "The ultimate aim of the study is to identify means other than NSAIDs that prevent bowel cancer in a similar way to aspirin.

"We are trying to understand what is causing the cell to die when RelA enters the nucleus. This mechanism of action of NSAIDs is still unclear. Understanding how NSAIDs act against bowel cancer gives us the chance to identify other drugs that have a similar preventative effect."

Currently drugs are not routinely used for preventing bowel cancer, although the launch of a national screening programme Scotland will help to identify the disease at an early stage.

For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 08701 602040 or visit our homepage.

ENDS

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Notes to Editor

About bowel cancer

  • Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK after breast and lung cancer.
  • More than 80 per cent of bowel cancers occur in people over 60.
  • Around two-thirds of cases of bowel cancer may be preventable by changes in diet and lifestyle.

Half of all cancers could be prevented by changes to lifestyle. Cancer Research UK's Reduce the Risk campaign has five simple messages to help people reduce their risk of cancer. These are:

  • Stop smoking: this is the best present you will ever give yourself
  • Stay in shape: cut your cancer risk by keeping a healthy weight
  • Eat and drink healthily: limit alcohol and maintain a healthy diet
  • Be SunSmart: protect yourself from the sun and harmful UV
  • Look after number one; be aware of any body changes and go for screening

For further information on Cancer Research UK’s Reduce the Risk campaign visit www.reducetherisk.org.uk.

For further information on bowel cancer visit www.cancerhelp.org.uk.

About Cancer Research UK

  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK carries out world-class research to improve understanding of the disease and find out how to prevent, diagnose and treat different kinds of cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK ensures that its findings are used to improve the lives of all cancer patients.
  • Cancer Research UK helps people to understand cancer, the progress that is being made and the choices each person can make.
  • Cancer Research UK works in partnership with others to achieve the greatest impact in the global fight against cancer.

For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 08701 602040 or visit www.cancerresearchuk.org.