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New Treatments for Bowel Cancer

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 10 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Bowel Cancer Treatment Prevention Stem

Finding ways to prevent and treat bowel cancer is one of the biggest challenges facing researchers today. New research that involves stem cells, however, may have put us a step further to understanding this devastating disease.

Finding Out About Bowel Cancer

Bowel cancer is actually one of the most common cancers in Britain although it can quite frequently be diagnosed very late, which makes treatment far more difficult and the prognosis poorer. A key issue is that we want to find out why a healthy, functioning bowel cell becomes cancerous and begins to form a tumour.

Bowel cancer has also unfortunately not received the same attention and focus as other kinds of cancer, despite it being so common. For this reason, it is especially positive to see beneficial findings from a study in the field.

Finding the Cancerous Cells

Researchers now believe they may be closer to finding the cells where bowel cancer originates. When researchers purposefully caused damage to stem cells isolated from the intestines of mice, they found that tumours began to rapidly grow.

If we look at how the research started though, we see that researchers first had to find the cells in the bowel that were considered vulnerable to cancer. This is where the stem cells aspect enters. Every kind of cell in your colon arose from stem cells. These stem cells are master cells that can differentiate into the various tissues around your body.

Stem Cell Differentiation

As a stem cell splits into two, one of these will be another stem cell while the other will be a daughter cell for another kind of tissue. One of the things researchers had wondered was whether cancer begins when a stem cell starts changing or later in a cell that comes from the original.

Investigating Genes

To investigate further, a research team took the intestinal stem cells from the mice and then removed a certain gene in them. This particular gene is one thought to suppress tumours and it contributes to cell division.

Rapidly after they removed these cells, the stem cells began forming tumours. Yet, when they did the same thing to daughter cells, there weren't nearly as many tumours that were formed. For this reason, researchers concluded that stem cells were a key ingredient in bowel cancer.

Research in Humans

Still, the results have to be shown in humans rather than mice before we can be confident they will help us develop new ways of treating bowel cancer. It does show how important our genes are in that if one that helps prevent cancer is lacking, a person would be more susceptible to suffering from a specific kind of cancer.

Protecting Your Body

For now, those who have a family history of bowel cancer should be screened more frequently than the rest of the population. Other helpful approaches involve lifestyle modifications such as exercise, quitting smoking and eating a varied, balanced diet. Hopefully the future will bring better screening and treatment for bowel cancer but you can still take action now to look after yourself and help prevent the disease.

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