How footballers have helped cancer patients

October 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Medical Research & Studies


It’s not a natural connection perhaps, despite the Bobby Moore Fund and its sterling work in raising funds for research into bowel cancer, but a new treatment has linked the two things.

It comes through hyperbaric oxygen therapy that is normally given to treat injured footballers to help them heal more quickly and to treat scuba divers who suffer the bends. It involves the patient sitting in a sealed chamber and breathing 100 per cent oxygen while the air pressure around them is gradually increased. The treatment lasts about 30 minutes and after it finishes the air in the chamber is slowly returned to normal pressure before the patient leaves.

A trial just beginning at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital aims to see if it could also help relieve the side-effects from radiotherapy that pelvic cancer patients often suffer.

These patients may be suffering from cancer of the cervix, ovary, prostate, testis, rectum, bladder and uterus and are left with unpleasant side-effects including diarrhoea, stomach cramps and frequent bowel movements.

Most patients return to normal within a few weeks of stopping radiotherapy treatment, but about 30 per cent develop long-term bowel problems that can interfere with their daily activities and certainly affect their quality of life.

At the moment there is no cure for these symptoms and, as more people are treated for pelvic cancer, an increasing number of people will experience such side effects. A recent small study found evidence that hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be able to improve this situation so a large trial is now underway at specialist centres in Cardiff, Chichester, Great Yarmouth, Hull, Plymouth, North London and the Wirral to properly test whether this therapy works in patients who have been suffering side-effects for at least a year.

Britain’s third biggest cancer – New genetic link


Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK with 36,500 people being diagnosed each year. It is also the second greatest cause of cancer death, currently around 100 people each day.

Anything that can help identify and treat a disease which kills over 15,000 people a year is very welcome and now a joint study funded by Cancer Research UK has found a genetic variant which they believe can promote the development of bowel cancer.

The study involved scientists in the UK, Spain and The Netherlands and sheds new light on how this disease develops and could lead to new treatments being designed. Common genetic variants that give people a higher risk of bowel cancer have already been identified, but scientists didn’t know how they might be driving cancer development. This new study goes one step further by showing how a precise DNA sequence could cause the biological changes that ultimately lead to cancer.

They identified 10 different genetic variants that increasedbowel cancer risk, concluding that people who had all the variants were at six times higher risk of developing it. They honed in on the genetic variant that conferred the strongest risk of bowel cancer, hypothesising that it was therefore key to driving cancer development. Laboratory experiments supported the scientists’ theory, showing the key genetic variant stopped the nearby SMAD7 gene turning on properly, and that disrupting this gene promoted cancer development. The SMAD7 gene is normally involved in cell growth and death so, by reducing the gene’s effect, the variant allows cancerous cells to grow.

Although the extra risk from having this DNA is modest, it is still highly significant because a large proportion of the population have the variant as part of their genetic makeup. Understanding cancer development in such detail will help in the search for new drugs, as any steps identified in the cancer process are potential places to intervene with treatments and research is now reaching a point where cancer drugs will be able to be targeted at the individual’s own genes for maximum effectiveness.