Trying to alleviate severe side effects

Anna Martling, professor of surgery, is researching colorectal cancer. The research is aimed at curing more patients and reducing the serious side effects of the treatment that many patients suffer.

Professor Anna Martling. Photo: Ulf Sirborn

"The treatment of colorectal cancer has improved significantly in the last three decades, but there is still much to do," explains Anna Martling. "The proportion of patients cured has risen from 50% to 60%, and the local recurrence rate has decreased ­from 30% to 5%. The biggest question in the future is how we can become better at preventing recurrence in other parts of the body. Among other things we need to learn is to recognise in advance patients with a high risk of recurrence.”

But the challenge is not only to save as many patients as possible, but also to provide them with the best possible life quality, she underlines. Much of her research is about ­the side effects of treatment and how they can be reduced.

"Fecal and urinary incontinence is very common after colorectal cancer, as well as lack of sexual desire or function," says Anna Martling. "Just how common was unknown – we had to start by finding out. As regards sexual dysfunction­, we are now taking the first step toward dealing with the problem.

Sometimes it is enough to notice and take up a problem for it to be solved."

That was the case with the gender difference in treatment she discovered from a register study: Swedish health services gave radiotherapy to men with colorectal cancer 20% more often than women with an equally serious illness. After the results were published, these differences disappeared within a few years.

Another important issue for Anna Martling is to gather all of the KI research on colorectal cancer in a network, in order to increased collaboration and the exchange of knowledge.

Text: Anders Nilsson, first published in Swedish in the booklet Från Cell till Samhälle 2014.