Nurse in the endoscopy unit

Bowel Cancer Awareness Month

This April marks bowel cancer awareness month. Here we highlight some of our work in this area and some of our amazing patients.

Bowel cancer is also know as colorectal cancer is cancer that begins in the large bowel (colon) or back passage (rectum). There are over 34,000 new cases of bowel cancer in the UK each year. It is the fourth most common cancer in the UK.

The Royal Marsden offers screening to detect for early diagnosis of bowel cancer and robotic surgery as treatment. This is the largest and most comprehensive programme of robotic surgery for cancer in the UK. The pioneering da Vinci robotic technology was funded by our generous charity supporters.

beth on treadmill
Beth partaking in her own Marsden March. After sharing this on social media, many others were inspired to do the same.

Beth's Story

Beth was in her final year of her law degree and working as a Paralegal in a local law firm when she was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer in September 2016 at the age of 37. Suddenly she was faced with a big operation to remove part of the bowel and create an ileostomy, where a piece of small bowel is taken out through the stomach and a bag placed over it. After the initial surgery treatment was not over, Beth had 12 cycles of chemotherapy over 6 months.

She started a new job and embarked on the next stage of studying towards becoming a solicitor and few months later in October 2017 she was offered a reversal of the ileostomy. Unfortunately, this did not go to plan and Beth was admitted to The Royal Marsden a few weeks later. A follow-up scan also revealed several nodules on her lungs. Beth was told these were not operable and she would be on chemotherapy for the rest of her life. There was a further blow, Beth was told she has mutation called BRAF which makes the cancer more aggressive. By April 2018 she decided to not continue with the chemotherapy having suffered with such strong side effects.

Beth continued to be monitored and after 5 months without chemotherapy her Oncologist Dr Naureen Starling was surprised to find that the cancer had not progressed and she was referred to a lung surgeon. To her shock the surgeon said he could operate. In September 2018 Beth's left lung was cleared of cancer, in October her right lung was then cleared. In January 2019 she was able to start a course of less aggressive chemotherapy.

In March this year I had a clear scan, and while I am told the cancer is likely to come back I am currently in a position that I never thought I would be in and that gives me so much hope

russell on bus

Russell's Early Diagnosis

Russell was just 17 when his Dad died after being diagnosed with bowel cancer. By then he’d already lost his Grandfather to bowel cancer, and Great Uncles and Great Grandfather to cancer. Given the history of cancer in his family his GP referred him for checks at The Royal Marsden.

18 years after Russell’s Dad’s death, new tests on the tumour revealed he had Lynch syndrome, an inherited condition which causes an increased risk of certain cancers including colorectal cancers. Russell was tested and found to also have lynch syndrome. He immediately went onto a more regular bowel screening programme, coming in to The Royal Marsden every 18-months for a colonoscopy. This is a procedure which examines the large bowel, trying to detect small growths (polyps) on the bowel wall. If seen they can be removed and tested.

In August 2018, one colonoscopy showed Russell had a number of polyps. Biopsies of the growths revealed at least two were cancerous – and he was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Left untreated he was told the cancer would advance very quickly within the year. After further investigation he underwent keyhole surgery in October 2018 to remove part of the bowel.

Russell has recovered well – he still has lynch syndrome and will still be coming back for regular screening, but has a much lessened chance of developing cancer in the bowel.

Sadly, in losing my father I saved my life; finding out about the inherited condition meant I went onto the screening programme and was able to catch this early. My experience at The Royal Marsden restored my faith in humanity.


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