Detecting and preventing bowel cancer
About Wendy Atkin
Professor Wendy Atkin, based at Imperial College in London, is a prominent bowel cancer researcher. Her research focuses on preventing the disease and detecting it early.
The bowel scope test
With joint funding from the MRC, Professor Atkin has been co-ordinating a large study to test a bowel screening technique called bowel scope (or Flexi-Scope). This technique involves searching for bowel problems with a camera on a flexible plastic tube. Evidence suggests that the test may only need to be done once at around age 60.
The bowel scope test detects and removes small growths (called polyps) inside the bowel. If left untreated, these growths can become cancerous. The test can prevent bowel cancer by removing these polyps before they develop into the disease.
The results of the 16-year study were published in April 2010, and show that a single bowel scope examination in people aged between 55 and 64 can cut the risk of developing bowel cancer by a third. The test also reduced the death rate from bowel cancer by 43 per cent.
The bowel scope test has the potential to save thousands of people from developing bowel cancer. And thousands more could be diagnosed early when treatment is most effective, so this test is a real breakthrough in our efforts to beat cancer.
Professor Atkin is exploring how best to develop an effective workforce of nurses with the specialist skills needed to perform the bowel scope test as part of the screening programme. She has developed information materials and training methods for these nurses.
And she is working out how often people with higher-risk polyps should have check-ups with colonoscopies, to make sure that their polyps haven't become full-blown cancers.
Diagnosing bowel cancer
Professor Atkin is also running the SIGGAR1 trial, of a technique called 'virtual colonoscopy', which could be used instead of colonoscopies to diagnose bowel cancers. This new method takes several x-rays of the bowel to look for tumours, and is less invasive than the traditional method.
Other research projects by Wendy Atkin
Funding period: 01 October 2008 to 31 December 2013