Colorectal cancer

Our research focuses on the cellular and molecular biology of colorectal cancer, to understand the causes, identify clinical outcomes in patients and tackle the second largest cause of cancer mortality in the UK.

Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer worldwide, and is the second largest cause of cancer mortality in the UK. Incidence of sporadic colorectal cancer varies worldwide, as well as between different ethnic and racial groups within a population. Globally, colorectal cancer is most common in industrialised regions, although interestingly, groups of migrants quickly acquire the risk associated with their new community, often within a single generation, suggesting a strong environmental influence in colorectal cancer.

Epidemiological studies suggest that a diet rich in fibre from cereals, fruit and vegetables can reduce risk of colorectal cancer, whereas high intake of alcohol, red or processed meat and animal fat associate with higher risk of colorectal cancer. In addition to dietary factors, a link has also been shown between obesity and development of colorectal adenomas, while physical activity may reduce risk of colorectal cancer. Other known risk factors include chronic inflammatory conditions, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.

Colorectal tumorigenesis is a multi-step process that progresses through an adenoma-carcinoma sequence. As disease stage at diagnosis is an important factor in determining response to therapy, emphasis has recently been put on early detection of colorectal lesions.

Research at Bristol

Research in the school focuses on the cellular and molecular biology of colorectal cancer with the emphasis on understanding the role of the tumour microenvironment on the cancer stem cell population, evasion of apoptosis and resistance to therapy (studied by the Cancer Research UK - colorectal tumour biology group, also refer to the cancer stem cell group), cell adhesion and cell motility, and the role of the COX-2/Prostaglandin signalling pathway in prevention and treatment of colorectal carcinogenesis (see chemprevention section of our site).

Clinical colleagues within Cellular and Molecular Medicine facilitate the translation of the reseach. Predictors of response to therapy will be useful in tailoring treatment strategies on an individual disease basis. Identification of new drug targets will be critical in improving clinical outcome in colorectal cancer patients, most importantly, those targets that can be used as biomarkers for early detection of disease, targets to prevent or delay progression, and those to improve therapeutic response at later disease stages.

Working in this area


Professor Ann Williams

Dr Muhammed Sohail

Colorectal cancer cells stained with dapi (nucleus, blue) and α-tubulin (red) showing cell division and cell death.

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