Dan Jarvis with our Cancer Awareness Roadshow nurses
Dan Jarvis is the Member of Parliament for Barnsley Central and a Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport. Here he shares his story about why he’s running a Marathon for Cancer Research UK.
Three years ago, after a long battle, my first wife Caroline died of bowel cancer.
This Sunday, along with hundreds of others, I’ll be running the London Marathon to support Cancer Research UK.
Caroline was first diagnosed in 2006 and had an operation to remove the cancer. She was diagnosed again in 2007 and had a further operation, again carried out by the same brilliant surgeon, who effectively saved her life. But the cancer came back in the spring of 2008.
We always hoped for the best, but it was a dreadful time. Caroline herself was always incredibly positive about her ability to beat the disease. She was brave and graceful throughout.
But tragically she died in July 2010.
Her death led me to end my career in the Army, and spurred me to become an MP. Balancing being an MP with looking after small children is very difficult, but possible thanks to the fantastic support of family and friends, and now with my partner.
Our researchers have found a new sub-type of bowel cancer
Thanks to advances in research over the years, we know more about cancer than ever before, with new discoveries being made all the time. In some cases this knowledge has led to life-saving new treatments. In others, it causes frustration and head-scratching until more pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
For example, why do some patients with the same type of cancer respond to a treatment but others don’t? And what makes some cancers grow and spread aggressively while others are less dangerous?
Thanks to research, answers to these questions are coming. Much of this progress hinges on the use of new technology to analyse the faulty genes in cancer cells, enabling researchers and doctors to characterise the molecular fingerprint of an individual person’s cancer and select the most appropriate treatment.
As an example, last year our scientists showed that, based on the genetic makeup of each patient’s disease, breast cancer can be divided into at least ten distinct subtypes, each with different outlooks and responses to treatment.
Now it’s bowel cancer’s turn under the spotlight, as researchers at our Cambridge Institute – along with colleagues in the Netherlands and Oxford – have discovered a new subtype of bowel cancer, which has a worse outcome than other types and is resistant to current targeted treatments.
Published in the journal Nature Medicine, their results have big implications for patients and future research. Continue reading
A new addition to the bowel screening programme is being rolled out
Back in December we wrote about Jeremy Hunt’s announcement that six centres in England would start using Bowel Scope Screening (BSS, also known as flexi-scope or flexible sigmoidoscopy) as part of their bowel screening programme in 2013.
This week, 55 year olds in the South of Tyne region (which includes Gateshead, Sunderland and South Tyneside) received the first wave of letters inviting them to be screened.
This is great news. Cancer Research UK has been involved in Bowel Scope Screening from the beginning – we co-funded a 16 year study which showed that it cuts deaths by over 40 per cent, and – unlike the current test – can actually prevent a third of bowel cancers among those screened.
As a result, it has the potential to save thousands of lives from bowel cancer each year.
As soon as the trial results were published in 2010, we said we wanted the Government to add BSS to the existing bowel screening programme, and later that year, they agreed, setting aside £60m to fund it.
Since then we’ve been calling for Bowel Scope Screening to start as soon as possible, so it’s fantastic to see it finally happen.
Another study has linked processed meat to ill health
As if the horsemeat scandal wasn’t bad enough, this morning’s headlines brought further news of the dangers of eating too much processed meat: an increased risk of an early grave.
The news come from a huge Europe-wide study – called EPIC – that Cancer Research UK helps fund, and this is no flash in the pan – the findings are robust and important.
But many people are well aware of the downsides of a high-meat diet, and one could be forgiven for a certain amount of headline fatigue on this topic – after all it seems to come up at least once a year.
So what exactly does this study add to what we already know – and, importantly, should we care?
Unstable chromosomes can make bowel cancer worse
Last year, researchers at our London Research Institute published what became – after the discovery of the Higgs boson – the second most-referenced science paper of 2012
Their study looked at how tumours ‘evolve’ during treatment, and showed that, genetically speaking, different parts of a patient’s kidney tumour were extremely diverse. No two regions they analysed were identical.
Although not the first study to demonstrate this diversity – known as ‘intratumoral heterogeneity’ – this paper kick-started a wider discussion of its causes and implications. Understanding how diversity develops in a tumour is important – because this is how cancers develop resistance to chemotherapy, and ultimately what makes cancer such a killer.
Today, the same group has published new research in the journal Nature that starts to reveal diversity’s origins.
They’ve been studying a phenomenon called ‘chromosomal instability’ in bowel cancer cells, where cells’ DNA becomes more and more disordered as they grow and divide, causing ever-greater genetic chaos. Patients with more unstable tumours tend to do worse - so understanding how it develops is important.
In a series of meticulous and detailed experiments, the researchers have found compelling evidence that chromosomal instability is caused by the malfunctioning of a particular (and unexpected) step in cell division, and identified three genes involved.
This gives us a better understanding of instability’s causes, which hopefully will galvanise future work to exploit it, and ultimately to improve things for patients. Let’s look in detail at what they did.
Our committee has invested £23million in new research
Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we’re able to spend hundreds of millions of pounds every year on life-saving cancer research.
And our highly experienced Science Committee makes sure this money goes to fund the most creative, promising and innovative research in the UK.
The committee recently met to decide which pioneering new research projects have what it takes to lead the fight against cancer.
After careful consideration the committee chose to spend over £23million in world class research across a spectrum of work – from screening to trials and cancer biology.
Here are some of the highlights.