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Experts are trying to uncover the triggers that drive Australia's second biggest cancer killer

Kate Shew, 47, was diagnosed in January last year. Courtesy: Nine

Experts are trying to uncover the triggers that drive Australia’s second biggest cancer killer.While bowel cancer screening has helped save lives, a new project is looking at advancing the way people are tested and treated.

Researchers are analysing the growths in the bowel, called polyps, by looking into their molecular profile.

Instead of just looking at the gene mutations, researchers will also examine the proteins, the gut’s microorganisms and immune cells.

Collectively they will help experts understand why polyps become cancerous.

About one in seven people that test positive in the stool test are diagnosed with polyps but not all polyps will turn into cancers and we’re trying to find out what are the triggers that drive those to turn into cancer,” said Professor Mark Molloy from Kolling Institute and Sydney University.

Patient samples from Royal North Shore will be analysed in the project.

Current guidelines mostly rely on the size and number of polyps to determine the frequency of follow up screening.

How do you differentiate patients that have very low-risk polyps and they need less frequent colonoscopies and those who have high-risk polyps that need more frequent follow up,” said Professor Alexander Engel, RNSH colorectal surgeon.

The research is made possible through a $10 million investment by Bowel Cancer Australia and The University of Sydney.

Professor Mark Molloy said the project could uncover ways to prevent the disease.

Whether we can change patient’s diets, whether we can give them chemopreventative drugs to halt the growth of those polyps he said.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening program is offered to people over the age of 50, which involves a taxpayer funded test in the mail every two years.

People should also be referred to a specialist for a colonoscopy if they experience symptoms for two weeks or longer.

Those symptoms include a persistent change in bowel habits, abdominal pain, unexplained anaemia and blood in the stool.

Kate Shew, 47, was diagnosed in January last year.

“Basically I have no family history of bowel cancer. I found a couple of tiny spots of red blood in the toilet bowl,” she said.

She underwent treatment for the tumour which had taken seven to ten years to grow.

Which I found really concerning, because I had no symptoms she said.