Press release

Farewell event to honour bowel cancer screening pioneer

Published on 25 January 2024

A University of Dundee expert, whose pioneering work transformed bowel cancer detection in Scotland, has announced his retirement.

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Professor Bob Steele, from Dundee’s School of Medicine, oversaw the introduction of the Scottish Colorectal Cancer Screening Programme, which revolutionised early detection of the disease and has undoubtedly saved countless thousands of lives.

The professor had his career marked by Bowel Cancer Screening and University colleagues with a celebration event on Wednesday. He presented a special farewell lecture - ‘A Career in Surgery and Screening’ - in which he spoke about the screening programme, which has become a model for detecting bowel cancer around the world. He also talked about his own research, which has led to the development of more sophisticated screening and cancer detection methods.

Professor Steele, who was awarded a CBE for his ground-breaking work in 2018, said, “I am honoured to have spent so many years working with so many wonderful colleagues on the introduction of screening and on research which has led to increased survival rates for bowel cancer.

“Great strides have been made and I’m encouraged by the excellent work which I know will continue to combat one of the most common forms of cancer.

“However, we still have so much more to do and we must all continue to urge people to take up the offer of screening for bowel cancer, and to lobby government for much needed resource to improve the screening programme.”

All residents in Scotland aged between 50 and 74 are invited to provide a sample of their stools for bowel screening every two years, with a small, easy-to-use and hygienic kit posted to their homes. Once the sample has been taken it is sent back for analysis with results available within days.

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Scotland, with an estimated 4,000 people in the country diagnosed with the condition every year. However, survival rates have dramatically increased thanks in part to the screening programme, with more and more people undertaking the test when invited.

When working as a senior registrar in the 1980s, Professor Steele was concerned about the high numbers of patients with bowel cancer who were dying. He moved to Nottingham where early bowel screening was taking place and noted that patients in the early stages of bowel cancer could be treated successfully, which spurred him on to work in this key area of public health intervention.

Professor Rory McCrimmon, Dean of the School of Medicine, said, "Bob has led from the front in the battle against colorectal cancer, which is one of the most prevalent cancers in the world.

"He has been an inspiration and a driving force in getting us to a place where effective early detection, evolving research and innovations in treatment are significantly increasing the prospects of survival for many thousands and thousands of people every year.

"He has been a beacon of inspiration to all of his colleagues and we were delighted and honoured to have the opportunity to pay tribute to him at his farewell lecture at the School of Medicine."

Notes to editors

Professor Robert Steele obtained his initial surgical and academic training in Edinburgh, Hong Kong and Aberdeen and was appointed as Senior Lecturer in Surgery at the University of Nottingham in 1990.  He was then appointed Professor of Surgical Oncology at the University of Dundee in 1996 and as Professor of Surgery and Head of Academic Surgery in 2003. His main interests are the treatment of and screening for colorectal cancer. Having led the UK demonstration pilot that was used to inform the decision to introduce national screening programmes throughout the United Kingdom, he served as the Clinical Director of the Scottish Colorectal Cancer Screening Programme until 2023 and has published extensively in this area. 

He has chaired several NHS QIS and HIS groups related to colorectal cancer and colorectal cancer screening, and he chaired the SIGN group that developed the most recent colorectal cancer guidelines.  He is a past member of Council of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and served as Editor of “The Surgeon” for ten years.  He is past Chair of the Health Improvement, Protection and Services (HIPS) Research Committee of the Scottish Government’s Chief Scientist’s Office, and past President of the Association of Coloproctology of Great Britain and Ireland. He was co-founder and co-director of the Scottish Cancer Prevention Network and is currently Chair of the Board of Directors of the Scottish Cancer Foundation. In 2016, he was appointed as Independent Chair of the UK National Screening Committee in which position he served until 2022. He currently chairs the Research and Innovation Group of the National Screening Oversight Board of Scotland.

In 2017 he was awarded an Honorary Membership of the Faculty of Public Health and was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 2018 he was elected to Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences and in 2022 he received an honorary Fellowship of the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons.  He was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2018.


Jonathan Watson

Senior Press Officer

+44 (0)1382 381489