Past research into bowel cancer

Researcher setting up machinery

Our strategy

A scientist

For the past 120 years, we’ve been making discoveries that have saved countless lives. But we have so much more to do. Our strategy sets out how we'll accelerate progress towards a better future.

Our milestones

Our scientists have made vital contributions to finding new and better ways to treat, diagnose and prevent bowel cancer. Below are a few of our most important discoveries.

2003 – A large study we help fund, called EPIC, shows that a high fibre diet decreases the risk of bowel cancer. Follow up findings from EPIC show that a diet high in red and processed meat and drinking too much alcohol also increases the risk of bowel cancer, while being a healthy body weight and physically active reduces it. This research helps people to make informed decisions about their health and lifestyle, so that they can take steps to lower their risk of bowel cancer. 

2011 – We show that aspirin can reduce bowel cancer cases in a group of people at high risk of the disease. Results from our CAPP trial show that the over-the-counter drug cuts the risk of bowel cancer in people with an inherited condition called Lynch syndrome, who are more likely to develop the disease. And further analysis of the results in 2015 show that overweight or obese people benefit the most from taking aspirin, a finding that reveals important clues about the biology driving bowel cancer to start.

2015 – A follow up of one of our CAPP trials discovers that aspirin can more than halve the risk of bowel cancer in obese people with Lynch syndrome, a condition that predisposes individuals to the disease. This important information can help doctors give advice to people who have an inherited risk of bowel cancer, to lower their risk of the disease. 

1920s – One of our researchers (and founder of the Britsh Empire Cancer Campaign) pioneers a technique for taking samples of bowel tumours using a special flexible tube called a sigmoidoscope – the predecessor of modern bowel screening and diagnosis.

1949 – Researchers we support design a system for classifying bowel cancers, called the Duke’s staging system, helping doctors to plan the best treatment and care for patients with bowel cancer.

2010 – Our scientists provide robust evidence that a new bowel screening technique, called bowel scope, can save lives by spotting bowel cancer early, and in some cases preventing cancer developing in the first place. Bowel scope was used in the national bowel screening programme in England from 2010-2020.

1925 – Our scientists are among the first to publish family trees of people affected by hereditary bowel cancer. This knowledge brings benefits to hundreds of families with a history of the disease.

1987 – We tracked down the location of an important gene called APC which, when faulty, raises the risk of bowel cancer. Thanks to this work, people who have a family history of bowel cancer can be offered genetic tests to look for faults in this gene and make informed choices about their health, including screening and preventative surgery options.


2007 – A trial we funded, called QUASAR, shows that giving patients with bowel cancer that hasn’t spread around the body chemotherapy after surgery reduces their risk of their cancer coming back. This trial changed the way doctors treat bowel cancer and has helped save many lives.

2011 – We help fund a large clinical trial testing a new targeted treatment for people with late stage bowel cancer. Thanks to these trials that paved the way for further studies, certain people with bowel cancer benefit from a drug called cetuximab.