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Four distinct types of bowel cancer found

15 October 2015 08:29

Scientists have found four different types of bowel cancer

Scientists have found four different types of bowel cancer

The findings of a new study could pave the way for bowel cancer to be targeted more effectively, researchers hope.

Working with colleagues around the world, scientists at London's Institute of Cancer Research have found there are four different types of bowel cancer.

Writing in the Nature Medicine journal, they say all four have their own distinct biological and genetic characteristics, something that could result in them being treated differently by doctors.

Affecting the colon and rectum, bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK. Patients with the disease are able to travel with a specialist cancer travel insurance policy.

The research team analysed data from more than 3,400 patients around the world. They looked at genetic mutations, how patients' immune systems were activated, how invasive their cancers were and cell metabolism.

They found that the vast majority (87%) of patients had one of four distinct subtypes of bowel cancer.

Those with one form, they found, tended to have a much better chance of surviving, even if their cancer returned after treatment.

But those with another subtype had a lower chance of survival, tended to be diagnosed later and were more likely to see their cancer spreading to other parts of their body.

Dr Anguraj Sadanandam, who helped lead the research, says the findings show there are four distinct subtypes of bowel cancer, some of which are more aggressive and deadlier than others.

Knowing that, he adds, could help doctors identify people with the more aggressive forms, enabling them to provide patients with the most effective form of treatment.

The institute's chief executive, Professor Paul Workman, says the last 10 years have seen the discovery that there are multiple subtypes of breast and prostate cancer.

The new study's findings, he adds, show the same is true of bowel cancer. Professor Workman says that will help scientists identify each form's specific weaknesses and behaviour, enabling tailor-made drugs and treatments for each to be developed.

In the UK, more than 41,000 people a year are diagnosed with bowel cancer, with the disease claiming over 16,000 lives annually.