Gut instinct: boosting bowel cancer research

Australia’s second leading cause of cancer deaths, bowel cancer, is receiving a major boost thanks to Bowel Cancer Australia and the University of Sydney.

A $5.9 million commitment from Bowel Cancer Australia will help establish a new professorial chair in bowel cancer research to develop better treatments and ultimately find a cure. The gift will be supported by additional funds of $3 million available to the University to advance research into bowel cancer.

Funded largely through the generosity of the charity’s community fundraisers, Bowel Cancer Australia Chief Executive Julien Wiggins says the size of the funding commitment will enable the chair and ancillary support to continue in perpetuity.

“Bowel cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Australia,” Mr Wiggins says.

“Changing that fact requires significant, long-term funding for dedicated bowel cancer research and that’s what we’ve provided.

“Screening can help with early detection but it won’t eliminate bowel cancer. The only way we can achieve that is with a cure and that can only come from research.”

The chair will be named the Lawrence Penn Chair in Bowel Cancer Research after one of Australia’s oldest bowel cancer survivors who was diagnosed 30 years ago.

“Lawrence is a former RAAF and Qantas pilot and recently celebrated his 70th wedding anniversary with wife June,” Mr Wiggins says. “He is 92 and still runs a farm on the NSW north coast and rides quad bikes, so he’s a great example of what life has to offer after a bowel cancer diagnosis.”

Bowel cancer – fast facts

  • Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is a cancer in the lining of the colon or rectum.
  • Most bowel cancers develop from pre-cancerous growths called polyps.
  • 1 in 12 Australians will develop bowel cancer in their lifetime.
  • About 15,000 Australians are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year and some 1,000 are under the age of 50.
  • Around 77 Australians die each week from bowel cancer.
  • Symptoms include any persistent change in bowel habits, blood in the bowel movement, bloating and cramping, unexplained weight loss, and severe abdominal pain.
  • If detected early, around 90 per cent of bowel cancer cases can be successfully treated.
  • Major risk factors include a personal or family history of the disease; being 50+ years old; a history of polyps; ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

“We are extraordinarily grateful to Bowel Cancer Australia for their support,” said the Dean of Sydney Medical School, Professor Bruce Robinson.

“In times when national research funding is increasingly difficult to secure, we rely more than ever on funds from community groups and individuals to undertake the research which is essential if we are to better prevent and treat bowel cancer.”

“The University of Sydney has many world class cancer researchers and clinicians. This philanthropic support for bowel cancer means we can build on our existing programs and make a greater contribution to improving cancer outcomes,” said Professor Robinson.

Establishing the chair will start with an international search to attract a world-class research leader.