‘Game changing’ drug combo shows promise in reducing bowel cancer tumours

Jun 19, 2024
While the research offers hope to those fighting the disease, experts recommend regular testing and early intervention as the best way to combat bowel cancer. Source: Getty Images.

A game changing combination of drugs may one day treat a common form of bowel cancer, following trials where tumours shrank or stopped growing in a majority of patients.

Microsatellite stable metastatic colorectal cancer (MSS mCRC) is the most common type of bowel cancer, but so far existing immunotherapy treatments have proven ineffective against the disease.

However, scientists at Anglia Ruskin University have found that combining immunotherapy drugs Botensilimab and Balstilimab may offer new hope for those diagnosed with this type of bowel cancer that has not responded to immunotherapy.

Both drugs work together by triggering the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells.

Justin Stebbing, professor of biomedical sciences at Anglia Ruskin University, said the findings were, “incredibly exciting”.

“Colorectal or bowel cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer worldwide and this is the first time there has been convincing evidence that immunotherapy can work in all forms of colorectal tumours, so this is potentially game changing,” Stebbing said.

“This is now progressing into later phase clinical trials, and we hope the FDA in the United States approve its use very soon.”

As part of the study, researchers followed 101 patients in the US over a six-month period and found the tumours had either shrank or remained stable in over 60 per cent of patients after receiving the combination of Botensilimab and Balstilimab.

While the research offers hope to those fighting the disease, experts recommend regular testing and early intervention as the best way to combat bowel cancer.

According to the Cancer Council, over 15,300 Australians were diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2023 with the average age of diagnosis being 69 years old.

Bowel cancer typically develops in the inner lining of the bowel and usually begins with growths called polyps, which may become cancerous if left undetected. While the risk of developing bowel cancer increases significantly with age, if detected in its early stages it has a greater chance of being treated successfully.

What to look out for: Signs and symptoms

The most common symptoms of bowel cancer include a change in bowel habits such as diarrhoea and constipation. Other warning signs to be on the lookout for are blood in the stool, abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, anal or rectal pain, fatigue, as well as bloating or cramping.

Although these are some of the symptoms often associated with bowel cancer, it’s important to note that many people with bowel cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease.

Risk factors for developing bowel cancer

Age seems to be the most prominent factor, with those aged 50 years and over making up 90 per cent of cases. Other factors that may play a role in the development of bowel cancer include family history, a history of developing polyps, high red meat or processed meat consumption, being overweight or obese and high alcohol consumption.

Prevention is key: Get tested early

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program aims to reduce death and illness from bowel cancer by detecting the early signs of the disease.

The free test kit is sent to all Australians between the age of 50 and 74, every 2 years. The simple test can be performed in the comfort of your own home and can be sent directly to the pathologist so they can detect any blood in your stool sample.

The test kit includes clear instructions on how to perform the screening which involves collecting 2 tiny stool samples from 2 separate bowel movements.

Ways to reduce your chance of getting bowel cancer

A healthy diet that includes a combination of the different food groups not only makes you feel good it is essential to maintain good health and protect against disease, particularly cancer.

Recreational physical activity can help reduce colon (not rectal) cancer by 16 per cent. Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise five or more days per week is recommended.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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