New website to help families spot bowel cancer risks

November 29, 2017, University of Plymouth

New research at the University of Plymouth has led to the creation a new website to help families at a high risk of bowel cancer.

Family Web was designed by PhD student Selina Goodman to enable families to share vital information about their genetic diagnosis with other and health professionals. Funded by local charity Bowel Cancer West and approved by the NHS, the website could help thousands of people – with 40,000 new cases of the disease diagnosed every year.

The idea formed when genetic counsellor Selina heard of a young mother in her 30s who, having presented clear symptoms of , was told "not to worry" by her doctor. Had she been able to access information demonstrating her history at the time, she would have been immediately referred for screening which would have shown that she, in fact, had an inherited form of bowel cancer.

Selina said:

"It immediately struck me that there could be a high number of others in a similar position with no way to access this vital information. I knew I had to do something about it and approached Bowel Cancer West for funding."

In demonstrating a clear gap that could revolutionise the way families communicate with themselves and their GP leading to an early diagnosis, Selina was granted £6,000 by the charity and went on to create her website which is free for people to use.

Selina added:

"Family Web allows high-risk patients a secure platform to share information such as letters from the hospital or a family tree [demonstrating a history of bowel related disease] by a sending a link via email to their relatives. Users of the website can show their doctor crucial information about their diagnosis by turning on their smartphone, tablet or laptop and looking at their account on the website.

"In its inherited form, bowel cancer can affect people at a younger age, so this website could help to identify links much more quickly – especially in people who might not think they're susceptible to it. In some families, the risk of developing the disease can be as high as 80 per cent."

Nearly 300 people with a risk of bowel cancer took part in the research to develop Family Web, guiding Selina through the information they wanted to receive. Now the website has information on topics including genetic testing and , all in an accessible format to give users the best possible advice. It also advises users on how to talk about a sensitive subject with loved ones and includes information on how living a healthy lifestyle including small changes in what you eat and drink can reduce the chances of getting bowel cancer.

The feedback Selina has had so far has been extremely positive. One user said:

"It would have been fantastic when I was telling all my relatives. If they feel uncomfortable talking to me, they can access the information without having to approach me so they can have their own privacy with it. My son, for example, would much prefer to receive an email with a link on it than a letter in the post."

Another added:

"I am not the best with computers… but I found it very easy to use."

Selina is currently writing up her research results but urges more people to make the most of her free website which is now live. NICE guidelines (published this year) recommend testing all new bowel tumours for genetic markers. The website has the potential to support family members and with vital information that is not currently very accessible.

Bowel Cancer West Chairman and Colorectal Surgeon at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, Mark Coleman, said:

"Since Angelina Jolie spoke publicly about her BRCA gene and the surgery she had to reduce her risk of breast cancer, many more people are aware that breast cancer can sometimes be passed down through families. The same problem exists in families with an increased risk of bowel cancer but this is not well known. Some people may be embarrassed talking about symptoms or worried about frightening their loved ones – if so, I urge them to explore Family Web. It's so simple to use and, although I would encourage people to be more open, they don't need to have that uncomfortable conversation with their loved ones if they don't want to. Getting an early diagnosis can significantly increase your chance of survival. Bowel Cancer West has always aspired to help those at risk of developing for genetic reasons. This is exactly the sort of project we wanted to get behind."

Explore further: Bowel cancer deaths drop by a third in 20 years

Related Stories

Bowel cancer deaths drop by a third in 20 years

August 15, 2017
The rate of people dying from bowel cancer in the UK has plummeted by more than 30 per cent in the last 20 years, according to new figures released today by Cancer Research UK.

Study makes case for wider gene testing in bowel cancer

January 5, 2015
Up to a quarter of patients with bowel cancer who have a family history of the disease could have the causes of their cancer identified through gene testing, a new study reports.

Inflammatory bowel disease in childhood associated with increased risk of cancer

September 21, 2017
Children who develop inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease) run a higher risk of cancer, both in childhood and later in life, a study from Karolinska Institutet published in the BMJ reports.

Men with high genetic chance of bowel cancer could have lower risk with healthy lifestyles

September 29, 2016
Men with a high genetic risk of developing bowel cancer over the next 25 years could have a lower risk of developing the disease if they also have a healthy lifestyle, according to a Cancer Research UK-funded study published ...

Family history of bowel cancer increases odds of survival

March 20, 2013
A new study that combines genetic information on bowel cancer with NHS patient outcome data has found a link between family history of the disease and a better chance of survival, published in the British Journal of Cancer.

Rare genetic faults identified in families with bowel cancer

December 24, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Rare DNA faults in two genes have been strongly linked to bowel cancer by Oxford University researchers, who sequenced the genomes of people from families with a strong history of developing the disease. 

Recommended for you

Mutant cells colonize our tissues over our lifetime

October 18, 2018
By the time we reach middle age, more than half of the oesophagus in healthy people has been taken over by cells carrying mutations in cancer genes, scientists have uncovered. By studying normal oesophagus tissue, scientists ...

Study involving hundreds of patient samples may reveal new treatment options of leukemia

October 17, 2018
After more than five years and 672 patient samples, an OHSU research team has published the largest cancer dataset of its kind for a form of leukemia. The study, "Functional Genomic Landscape of Acute Myeloid Leukemia", published ...

A 150-year-old drug might improve radiation therapy for cancer

October 17, 2018
A drug first identified 150 years ago and used as a smooth-muscle relaxant might make tumors more sensitive to radiation therapy, according to a recent study led by researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer ...

Loss of protein p53 helps cancer cells multiply in 'unfavourable' conditions

October 17, 2018
Researchers have discovered a novel consequence of loss of the tumour protein p53 that promotes cancer development, according to new findings in eLife.

New method uses just a drop of blood to monitor lung cancer treatment

October 17, 2018
Dr. Tasuku Honjo won the 2018 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for discovering the immune T-cell protein PD-1. This discovery led to a set of anti-cancer medications called checkpoint inhibitors, one of the first of ...

Researcher fighting breast cancer with light therapy

October 17, 2018
When treatment is working for a patient who is fighting cancer, the light at the end of the tunnel is easier to see.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.