Melbourne cancer scientists believe they have found a cause for the onset and acceleration of bowel cancer.
Being the third most common cancer in Australia, this exciting discovery opens up the possibility for new ways to treat bowel cancer, bringing hope to patients suffering from the disease.
Researchers from the prestigious Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre found a two-part failure in bowel cancer cells. Essentially, the mechanisms which stop a cell from multiplying uncontrollably, stop working in bowel cancer cells.
This failure causes the acceleration of the disease and, additionally, the development of resistance to cancer treatments. This two-part failure is known as “chromosomal instability” and is caused by a signalling network in the cell called the Wnt Pathway.
“Previously, in most bowel cancers, we thought this instability built up randomly over time as cancer cells evolved, while a signalling network, called the Wnt pathway, held cells back from chromosome chaos,” Professor Rob Ramsay said.
“Now we have proven this instability begins immediately with the breakdown of the Wnt pathway, which occurs in two steps and sets off an unstoppable acceleration of disease.
“Just as the loss of firstly the handbrake, followed by the secondary loss of a foot brake, both combine to allow a car to career down a hill.”
Chromosomal instability was found in 85 per cent of tumours in people with bowel cancer.
Professor Ramsay says the “double breakdown” in the Wnt pathway sparked complex evolution in the genetic make-up of bowel cancers.
“The dramatic genomic changes cells go through gives the cancer a breadth of opportunities to rapidly evolve, to deceive and outflank the cancer treatments.”
Professor Ramsay said the findings open up potential new treatment possibilities.
“This fundamental new information reaffirms why the Wnt pathway should be a high priority target of new treatment development, and the genetic clues uncovered by our research will help guide the selection of patients for different therapies, some of which are currently available,” he said.