Ahead of World Cancer Day on 4 February, Australian researchers are calling for people of all ages to be aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer.
“We know early detection and treatment is vital to overcoming not only bowel cancer, but potentially other cancers as well,” said Professor Si Ming Man from the Australian National University (ANU).
Bowel cancer claims more than 100 lives in Australia each week, yet about 90% of cases can be successfully treated if detected early.
Under the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, Australians aged between 50 and 74 receive a free bowel screening test every two years – an effective measure to promote early detection and treatment.
Promising new research
New research from ANU has found that a protein in the immune system can be manipulated to help overcome bowel cancer.
The protein, known as Ku70, can be activated or turned on like a light switch by using a combination of new and existing drugs, according to lead author Dr Abhimanu Pandey, from ANU.
“In its activated state, the protein acts like a surveillance system, detecting signs of damaged DNA in our cells,” said Dr Pandey.
“Our research shows that Ku70 can ‘cool off’ cancer cells and mop up damaged DNA. The protein prevents the cancer cells from becoming more aggressive and spreading throughout the body, essentially deactivating them and keeping them in a dormant state.”
Bowel cancer is the fourth most diagnosed cancer in Australia. It’s estimated one in 20 people will be diagnosed with bowel cancer by the age of 85.
Although the risk of developing bowel cancer is higher in people aged over 50, an increasing number of younger Australians are being diagnosed with the disease. One in nine new bowel cancer cases now occur in Australians under the age of 50.
Future bowel cancer screening methods could include checking the levels of Ku70 in pre-cancerous polyps, abnormal growths of tissue found in the colon, before healthy cells turn cancerous, said Professor Man.
“Our research shows Ku70 is a good immune biomarker, meaning it helps us predict who will fare better or worse after being diagnosed with bowel cancer,” Professor Man said.
“We hope the cancer research helps raise awareness of cancer prevention, detection, and treatment on this important day.”
Check if you are eligible for the National Bowel Screening Program and earn about the screening process here
World Cancer Day is an international day marked on 4 February to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment.
The ANU research is published in Science Advances.
Learn more about how ANU researchers are making important strides in cancer research at ANU Reporter.