Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Daniel Keane

King's College to investigate global surge in bowel cancer cases among under-50s

Professor Tim Spector will lead a team at King’s College London to investigate a surge in bowel cancer cases among young people.

The team at King’s, alongside nine other global universities, will study factors contributing to early-onset bowel cancer by analysing samples from diverse populations worldwide.

They will look at known risk factors such as obesity and poor diet and new risk factors including environmental and social factors. In laboratory experiments, the scientists will investigate how these factors lead to cell changes linked to early-onset bowel cancer.

Prof Spector was a key figure during the Covid pandemic and created the ZOE Covid App, which collated feedback from people infected with the virus on symptoms. It has since been transformed into a general health research project that extends beyond Covid.

Health officials have warned of an alarming rise in cases of bowel cancer diagnosed in people aged under 50 in multiple countries across the world.

Research suggests that this risk is increasing with each new generation and is likely linked to exposures in early life and throughout an individual’s lifetime that are specific to their birth cohort.

Dame Deborah James died in June 2022 at the age of 40 after suffering from early onset bowel cancer. She became an outspoken campaigner for the disease and set up the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK which has raised more than £10 million.

Prof Spector said: “We applied because colon cancer, particularly in younger adults, is a growing problem. Our range of multidisciplinary skills can play an important role, particularly with regards to nutrition and the gut microbiome.

“People with rare and early cancers don’t get as much research attention, so this is a key opportunity to better understand the risk factors and how to improve prevention."

Dr Sarah Berry, from King’s College London and chief scientist at ZOE, said: “The large-scale community experiment component of this research will explore the real-life application of dietary advice to reduce colorectal cancer risk in a way that hasn’t been done before.”

A study published in January in the journal Annals of Oncology found that unhealthy lifestyles were contributing to cancer at an earlier age.

The research looked at European cancer death rates and those it the UK, comparing what death rates in 2024 could look like set against figures for 2018.

It found bowel cancer death rates for men and women aged 25 to 49 years would rise in Italy (by 1.5 per cent in men and 2.6 per cent in women), in Poland (5.9 per cent) and among Spanish men (5.5 per cent), and German women (7.2 per cent).

However, the UK showed a massive jump compared to these other countries, with a 26 per cent expected rise in men and a 39 per cent rise in women.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.