Scientists in Wales have received £514,000 from Cancer Research UK to develop a new test using Salmonella which aims to detect bowel cancer at an early stage.
Prof Paul Dyson at Swansea University and Dr Lee Parry at Cardiff University have discovered that a safe strain of strain of Salmonella can be found in the poo of people with bowel polyps.
If left untreated, polyps can go on to develop into bowel cancer over time.
Each year around 2,400 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in Wales*.
When diagnosed at its earliest stage, more than 9 in 10 people with bowel cancer will survive their disease for five years or more.
The new test being developed by Prof Dyson and Dr Parry, alongside Dr Sunil Dolwani at Bowel Screening Wales, is aiming to monitor the Salmonella in a patient’s poo sample as a way to test if polyps are present.
Prof Dyson, who specialises in molecular microbiology, said: “This type of bacteria can be detected if bowel polyps are present, which may be because polyps provide the right environment for the bacteria to thrive, including nutrients and the ability to hide from the immune system.
“We plan to use this safe strain of bacteria for people who don’t have symptoms, and if it stays in their system we hope it could be a way to help diagnose people with bowel cancer in the future.”
Currently, people can be screened for bowel cancer with an at home test, sent to everyone 60-74 who’s registered with a GP. The test detects minute amounts of blood in poo which can be a sign of bowel cancer.
While the current test helps save lives from bowel cancer, like all screening tests it’s not perfect. This new research will explore whether the new test could help to save even more lives.
Dr Parry, from Ferndale in the Rhonnda Valley, said: “It’s fantastic to have an investment like this which could one day lead to a rapid test to diagnose bowel cancer at an earlier stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful.”
The researchers are also looking at how the strain of Salmonella could be used to detect the exact location of polyps.
“It can be difficult to find some polyps during an endoscopy, but we have found that we can use the bacteria to help locate polyps which can’t always be seen on camera,” said Dr Parry.
If the research shows this test produces reliable results, there is also the potential to use the test to help diagnose other cancer types including breast and pancreatic cancer.
Richard Sugarman, 47, from Penarth, knows all too well how important early diagnosis is.
The father of one, who was 36 when he was diagnosed with bowel cancer, says it took over a year for his bowel cancer to be diagnosed. He had been experiencing severe stomach pains, weight loss and eventually blood loss when going to the toilet before his diagnosis.
“Because I was young at the time, I was told my symptoms weren’t anything serious and were likely to be Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)” said Richard.
“I had been misdiagnosed for a year despite having chronic stomach pain.
“Then I bled when I went to the loo and went to A&E. I was still there for a couple of weeks before I was diagnosed.
“I should not have survived – the cancer had spread to three-quarters of my intestine.”
Thankfully, Richard only needed surgery to remove the tumour and has now been cancer free for over 10 years.
As well as welcoming the Cancer Research UK early prevention award, Richard is also backing Cancer Research UK’s ‘Right Now’ campaign in Wales.
The charity’s powerful and emotive campaign highlights the day-to-day reality of life for those affected by cancer. It features real patients undergoing cancer treatment within the last few years, followed up by home video showing how research has helped them get back to enjoying life with their loved ones.
Richard hopes to draw attention to the impact cancer research has had on his own life – giving him more precious time with the people he loves.
He said: “Research is what gives me, my family and my friends the hope we need. And I’m proud to be a part of this vitally important campaign and I hope people in Wales will donate or support in any way they can. Progress in the fight against this devastating disease relies on everyone who raises vital funds.”
Thanks to the generosity of its supporters, Cancer Research UK was able to spend around £4m in Wales last year on some of the UK’s leading scientific and clinical research.
*Based on the average annual number of new cases of bowel cancer (ICD10 C18-C20) diagnosed in Wales in the years 2014-2016.