Thousands of people in the UK are affected by bowel problems which can make everyday living almost intolerable.


How prevalent are bowel problems in the UK?


More than 41,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer annually. It affects men and women almost equally and is the 2nd biggest cancer killer after lung cancer. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) affects more than 250,000 people and is currently incurable. IBD can begin in childhood and is a life-long condition. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is thought to affect up to 1 in 5 people during their lifetime, very often with symptoms strikingly similar to IBD, but with the absence of the inflammation and ulceration identified in those individuals. IBS is termed a “functional” disorder, others of which are constipation and faecal incontinence (FI). Both constipation and FI are very prevalent, with up to 1 in 10 people, predominantly women, experiencing chronic constipation and 1 in 50 requiring hospital treatment. There are 471,000 residential care home beds in the UK (compared with 170,000 in the NHS). Within this elderly care home population, 1 in 2 individuals is doubly incontinent.


What share of research funding does bowel disease receive?


Despite these staggering numbers, the ratio of funding into gastrointestinal conditions is one of the poorest of all. In 2012 the UK Health Research Analysis, compiled with data from the largest research funders in the UK identified that the investment in research in the area of oral and gastrointestinal disease was less than half of the equivalent burden that these diseases represent.


How will Bowel & Cancer Research make a difference?


The most significant development that Bowel & Cancer Research has supported is the launch of a National Centre for Bowel Research and Surgical Innovation, based at Barts & the London School of Medicine and Dentistry in London. This is enabling us to make strides in developing surgical and clinical trials in areas as diverse as colorectal cancer, faecal incontinence and constipation. Because it houses a specialist laboratory where scientists work directly with human tissue donated by patients, the National Centre has enabled researchers to pinpoint mechanisms which are unique to humans. This is having major implications for investigations into diseases such as Crohn’s and colitis as well as conditions such as obesity and chronic constipation. In bowel cancer research it is funding new genetic techniques to see if we can switch off a main gene implicated in bowel cancer development and if aspirin can make current therapies more effective.


Where does Bowel & Cancer Research spend its money?


As well as having a strong link with the National Centre at Barts, Bowel & Cancer Research also supports high quality research anywhere around the UK. Funding covers disease or functional problems related to the bowel. This includes colorectal cancer, Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome as well as constipation and faecal incontinence. Most UK spend among the very large funders is directed towards understanding disease processes, so Bowel & Cancer Research focuses on diagnosis, treatment and management.


What has Bowel & Cancer Research achieved?


The opening of the National Centre in 2012 was a major achievement and the springboard to exciting developments. The National Centre is the hub of a nationwide clinical network testing a range of interventions for people with bowel problems. Scientists using the human tissue laboratory, and helped by the charity’s funding, have discovered important changes in the bowel related to ageing and gender; how inflamed bowel registers pain and  the bowel’s role in regulating appetite. These findings could have a profound effect on how we manage constipation in elderly people, pain for people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease and obesity and type II diabetes in future.

The charity is also supporting work into the effect of aspirin on bowel cancer and of probiotics in maintaining the function of bowel which is resting after surgery.


Can I get involved?


DEFINITELY. More than ever before the public is being invited to participate in all aspects of medical research. Bowel & Cancer Research supports a programme at the National Centre designed to involve members of the public in research. Visit to find out more.