Research into the causes and prevention of bowel cancer

We know your risk of developing bowel cancer depends on many factors, including age, genetics, and other risk factors. Researchers continue to be interested in other reasons why bowel cancer develops in some people but not others and what can be done to prevent it. 


The risk of developing bowel cancer is higher in people who have a family history of bowel cancer. This can be caused by an inherited gene change. The risk increases depending on which gene is damaged or which part of the gene is damaged.

Researchers are learning more about genes and gene faults linked to bowel cancer. They are looking at blood and tissue samples from people who have had bowel cancer, as well as blood samples from people who haven't had cancer. They are also collecting information about family history.

Diet and physical activity

Researchers are looking at ways to prevent and slow the growth of bowel cancer. 

They have looked at the impact of lifestyle. They found that eating a high fibre diet, less red meat and processed meat can reduce the risk of bowel cancer. There is also strong evidence that maintaining a healthy weight and exercising lowers the risk. 

Researchers want to find what information people need to help them make these changes. And they are looking at how practical and acceptable lifestyle intervention programmes are for people. These programmes include advice about increasing physical activity you do, improving your diet and stopping smoking. 


Researchers are looking into whether drugs can prevent bowel cancer. They have looked at non steriodal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as aspirin to see if they can prevent bowel cancer developing. Results suggest that aspirin might reduce the risk of bowel cancer developing.

They are also looking into how aspirin affects cancer spread and whether it can stop cancer coming back after treatment.

Last reviewed: 
21 Nov 2018
  • Dietary fibre, whole grains, and risk of colorectal cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies
    D Aune and others
    British Medical Journal. November 2011

  • Aspirin and Colorectal Cancer Prevention and Treatment: Is It for Everyone?
    C Coyle and others
    Curr Colorectal Cancer Rep. 2016; volume 12: pages 27–34

  • Dietary Fibre Intake and Risks of Cancers of the Colon and Rectum in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)
    N Murphy and others 
    PLoS One. 2012; Volume 7 Issue 6

  • Consumption of Dairy Products and Colorectal Cancer in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)
    N Murphy and others
    PLoS One. 2013; Volume 8 Issue 9

  • Clinical trials database
    Cancer Research UK
    Accessed 21 November 2018

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