Queen’s University scientist gets TV campaign cash for bowel cancer trial

Belfast scientist Dr Vicky Coyle with bowel cancer survivor Robert McCartney from Woodvale in Belfast
Belfast scientist Dr Vicky Coyle with bowel cancer survivor Robert McCartney from Woodvale in Belfast
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A Belfast scientist is putting cash from the Channel Four-backed ‘Stand Up To Cancer’ campaign to good use with a new trial to discover if exercise can prevent bowel cancer from returning.

Dr Vicky Coyle, from Queen’s University Belfast, was awarded £750,000 from the joint campaign by Channel Four and Cancer Research UK to find out how to keep the disease from coming back.

Bowel cancer survivor Robert McCartney, a father of three from Woodvale in Belfast, is one of those taking part.

“My diagnosis was a complete shock to me, as I had absolutely no symptoms,” Mr McCartney said. “

“I received the bowel cancer testing kit, which thankfully I did return and received a letter shortly afterwards that they had found blood in the sample. A colonoscopy was arranged and this confirmed a diagnosis of cancer.

“I had surgery, which removed 30% of my bowel.”

He said he “did not hesitate” to join the trial when he received an invite to take part.

Dr Coyle’s research is part of a larger international study, developed by the Canadian Cancer Trials Group, with similar trials under way in the USA, South Korea, Israel, France, Australia and Canada.

“Each year in the UK, around 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer – around 1,200 of those are in Northern Ireland. For some of these people, their cancer will return,” said Dr Coyle

“There is some evidence that patients who are physically active have a greater chance of surviving bowel cancer, a lower chance of their disease coming back after treatment and a better quality of life afterwards.

“But to date, no study has been big enough to prove this conclusively or to determine how much exercise patients would need to help reduce the risk of their cancer coming back.”

She continued: “The aim of this study is to look at using exercise as a possible treatment to stop bowel cancer coming back in patients who have already undergone treatment for the disease. What we will be trying to find is an amount or ‘dose’ of weekly exercise – like we do for drugs – that could do this.

“Our hope is that by defining an amount of physical activity that could help prevent bowel cancer returning and showing that patients can successfully increase their activity levels by taking part in a structured exercise programme, we could improve outcomes for our patients with bowel cancer.”

The trials will see 1,000 bowel cancer survivors take part across the world – including patients from the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre in Belfast.

Stand Up To Cancer has raised over £62 million in the UK since 2012.