Major Development in Treatment for Bowel Cancer

Last week, the American Society of Clinical Oncology held it’s annual conference in Chicago (thought to be the world’s largest cancer conference) where British researchers presented on potentially life changing treatment for bowel cancer patients.

The “CREST” trial has been looking into the use of stents to reduce the risk of bowel surgery and the number of patients requiring colostomy bags.

At present, 1/5 of British bowel cancer patients only receive a diagnosis after the cancer has grown to the stage where it blocks the bowel, placing the patient in extreme pain and danger. This can only be resolved through emergency surgery which is high risk, as the patient is weak from the illness and less risky keyhole surgery is not possible due to the amount of swelling. This extensive surgery can often require part of the bowel to be removed and the patient fitted with a colostomy bag.

A new procedure hopes to reduce the risk of this type of surgery and the number of patients needing a subsequent colostomy, from 69% to 45%. A stent, which is effectively a tube, is inserted at the point of the bowel blockage. It then expands and acts as a new passageway for waste material to pass through. Once the bowel is unblocked and healed, surgery can then take place to treat the cancer.

The lead doctor for the research, Professor James Hill, says “Traditionally doctors have worried that unblocking the bowel in this way could increase the chance of cancer spreading, but our early results don’t show this … we’re pleased to see that this could be a way of reducing the risk of patients needing a colostomy bag after their surgery, which is a huge improvement to patients’ day-to-day lives”.

More research is required to ensure that the procedure does not adversely affect survival rates or the care that survivors will require, but assuming that all is well after the 3 year review period, the procedure could be rolled out widely, across the world to some of the 1.4 million bowel cancer patients each year.

Of course, the surgery will benefit those unlucky enough to be diagnosed at a late stage when bowel obstruction has take place. But patients should be alert to the symptoms of bowel cancer in an attempt to achieve a diagnosis and treatment that may not require emergency surgery. The NHS warns (http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cancer-of-the-colon-rectum-or-bowel/Pages/Symptoms.aspx) that patients should look out for the following symptoms which might indicate bowel cancer:

  • Change in bowel habits – going to the toilet more often, looser stools and or blood in the stool;
  • Change in bowel habits without blood but with abdominal pains;
  • Blood in stools without haemorrhoid symptoms such as soreness, discomfort, pain itching or a lump hanging down outside the anus;
  • Pain, discomfort or bloating when eating, or a reduction in the amount of food you can eat or weight loss.

If you are concerned about any of these symptoms then you should seek advice from your GP as soon as possible, to rule out bowel cancer or other disease.