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HSC R&D Doctoral Fellow contributes blog entry to Bowel Cancer UK

Medical oncologist, Dr Ashleigh Hamilton, tells us about the research she’s doing alongside her team of supervisors, as part of her PhD. The research, based at the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s University Belfast, hopes to understand more about what could be causing bowel cancer in younger people.
Why is this research needed?

Although relatively rare, bowel cancer is becoming more common in younger adults under the age of 50. The reason for more cases being diagnosed in this age group is not yet clear, but it’s likely there are multiple factors involved.

A bowel cancer diagnosis and its treatment also presents unique challenges for younger adults. The physical side effects, emotional toll, and practical issues such as employment and finance, may affect younger patients and their loved ones in different ways to older bowel cancer patients. It’s really important for us to get a better understanding of these issues so we can help to address them.


What is the research about?

There are three parts to the project. Part one is aimed at identifying the factors that may increase the risk of bowel cancer in younger people. This could include lifestyle factors in young adulthood (such as weight and alcohol intake) as well as factors in very early life (such as birth weight, being born by caesarean section, or having been breastfed). We plan to analyse data from large, anonymous, patient databases in Northern Ireland and the UK, to help answer these questions.

Secondly, we’ll compare some of the biological features of the bowel cancers, such as changes to genes, from younger and older patients who’ve had surgery in Northern Ireland. This will help us to understand if the way the bowel cancer grows and develops differs with age (for example, is it more or less aggressive in younger patients), and how this in turn affects survival.

Finally, we’ll be exploring the experience of treatment for younger bowel cancer patients to understand more about how it might affect them. We’ll be speaking to younger patients via virtual interviews to get an in-depth understanding of the impact of bowel cancer treatment on patients and their loved ones.


To read more click here.