Bowel Cancer Has Four Distinct Types: Discovery Could Lead To Development Of More Effective Treatments


Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide. In 2012, approximately1.4 million new cases of bowel cancer were documented. Also known as colorectal cancer, this type of cancer targets the rectum and the colon.

A new research found bowel cancer can be classified into four diseases. Each classification carries its own set of characteristics. Researchers are hopeful that this discovery will lead to the development of more targeted drugs for treatments.

A team of British scientists looked into molecular and clinical data taken from 3,443 bowel cancer patients worldwide. The team focused on cell metabolism, invasive ability, cancer cell type, gene mutations and activities and immune system activation. Researchers found that the cancers can be classified into four groups called the 'consensus molecular subtypes' (CMS). The four types include CMS1, CMS2, CMS3 and CMS4.

Their findings also showed that 87 percent of the cancers belong to one of four subtypes. Cancers that fell into this category were diagnosed late when the cancer had already spread. CMS4 cancers have low survival rates compared to cancers that belong in CMS2, wherein relapse cancers still have better survival rates.

"Our study has identified four distinct types of bowel cancer, each with a definite set of genetic and biological characteristics, and some of which are more aggressive and more likely to be fatal than others. This could allow doctors to pick out those patients with more aggressive disease and treat them accordingly," said Institute of Cancer Research's Dr. Anguraj Sadanandam, the study's co-leader. Sadanandam added that the findings could lead to the development of new tests which could best determine a patient's bowel cancer type in order to get the best effective treatment.

London's Institute of Cancer Research chief executive, Professor Paul Workman expressed that the findings will help better understand the weakness and behaviors of each bowel cancer type. This could benefit the medical community in coming up with tailor-fit therapies for each type. 

The team is gearing up for the next phase. They aim to find the existing treatments that best suit each bowel cancer type. The one-size-fits-all approach to cancer treatment should be evaluated as some cancer patients might not benefit fully from undergoing chemotherapy.

The researchers published their study in the Nature Medicine journal on Oct. 12.

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