The Link Between Age and Colorectal Cancer Risk

Age is the number one risk factor for colorectal cancer. Nearly 90% of people diagnosed with the disease are 50 or older. The median age for colorectal cancer diagnosis is 63 years for rectal cancer and 69 years for colon cancer.

By the time colorectal cancer is diagnosed, it has often been growing for several years, first as a noncancerous polyp and later as cancer. Research indicates that polyps are found in about 30% of adults age 45–50. This is why learning about risk factors and screening for colorectal cancer is important.

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Colorectal Cancer Trends

In the United States, colorectal cancer kills about 50,000 people a year, and 150,000 people a year are diagnosed with this deadly disease. That makes colorectal cancer the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

While the incidence and mortality of colorectal cancer has declined overall, there has been a significant increase in the incidence of colorectal cancer in people under the age of 50.

The American College of Gastroenterology now recommends that screening for colorectal cancer start at age 45 rather than 50.

In addition to decreased incidence of this disease among Americans and other Westerners, another bit of good news concerning colorectal cancer is that the treatment for advanced disease (stage III or stage IV colorectal cancer) has improved. Furthermore, we now have agents that are more specifically targeted to treat this disease. These advancements along with regular colorectal cancer screenings can save lives.

Other Risk Factors

In addition to age, here are some specific risk factors for colorectal cancer:

Many lifestyle risk factors have also been associated with colon cancer. These include:

  • Obesity
  • Lack of physical exercise
  • A diet low in fruit and vegetables
  • A low-fiber and high-fat diet
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Smoking

Environment in addition to genetics has been shown to play a significant role in the development of colorectal cancer. For example, when a person moves from a country with a lower incidence of colorectal cancer to a country with a higher incidence, this person's risk of colorectal cancer increases to that of their new home.

How to Help Lower Your Risk

Although no one can turn back the hands of time and become younger, there are other ways that you can cut your risk of developing deadly colorectal cancer. Many of these include lifestyle changes, such as modifying your diet, weight, and level of physical activity.

However, the best way to prevent full-blown colorectal cancer is early detection. If you're more than 45 years old and have yet to receive a colonoscopy or other screening test, it's imperative that you make an appointment with your physician and get screened.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Siegel RL, Miller KD, Goding Sauer A, et al. Colorectal cancer statistics, 2020CA A Cancer J Clin. 2020;70(3):145-164. doi:10.3322/caac.21601

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Colon polyps.

  3. Shaukat A, Kahi CJ, Burke CA, Rabeneck L, Sauer BG, Rex DK. ACG clinical guidelines: colorectal cancer screening 2021Am JGastroenterol. 2021;116(3):458-479. doi:10.14309/ajg.0000000000001122

  4. Grothey A, Clark, JW. Patient education: colorectal cancer treatment, metastatic cancer (beyond the basics). UpToDate.

  5. Macrae, FA. Colorectal cancer: epidemiology, risk factors, and protective factors. UpToDate.

Additional Reading