Colon Cancer Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

Rates of colorectal cancer are rising in young people

Colon cancers are growths that start in the colon and spread to other body parts. They’re closely related to rectal cancers and are often labeled "colorectal cancer" (CRC).

Every year in the United States, healthcare providers diagnose around 150,000 new cases of colorectal cancer. Of those, 106,180 will be colon cancers, and 44,850 will be rectal cancers.

Rates for new colorectal cancer cases fell an average of 1.8% yearly between 2010 and 2019. But this downward trend may not continue, as rates of new cases of colorectal cancer are rising in younger age groups.

This article will highlight important facts and statistics you should know about colon, rectal, and colorectal cancer.

Healthcare provider discusses colon cancer screening with person seeking care

The Good Brigade / Getty Images

Colon Cancer Overview

Cancers are uncontrolled growths of abnormal cells in the body that have the potential to overtake healthy cells in the tissues and organs where they begin and then spread to other areas of the body. When these growths start in the colon or rectum they are called colorectal cancers.

The colon is the largest part of the large intestine. It extends from the end of the small intestine to the rectum, which attaches to the anus, where waste exits the body.

Colorectal cancers often start as colon polyps. A polyp is a growth that develops on the lining of a hollow organ, like the intestinal tract or uterus.

A relatively large proportion of the population (somewhere between 15% and 40% of adults) have colon polyps. They’re more common in men and older people. If not removed, some polyps can become cancerous.

How Common Is Colon Cancer?

Every year in the United States, healthcare providers diagnose around 150,000 new cases of colorectal cancer. Two-thirds of colorectal cancer (106,180 cases) start in the colon. About one-third (44,850) start in the rectum.

Colorectal cancer makes up almost 8% of new cancer cases. Around 52,580 people with colorectal cancer die every year. U.S. data collected between 2015 and 2019 show 37.7 cases of colorectal cancer for every 100,000 people. Over their lifetimes, about 4.1% of people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

The rate of colon cancer is about 1 in 23 (4.3%) for men and 1 in 25 (4.0%) for women. In 2019, an estimated 1,369,004 people in the United States were living with colorectal cancer. There will likely be more than 200,000 new cases of colon cancer in the next two years.

The rate of new cases of colorectal cancer was highest in 1985. when it was 66.6 per 100,000 people per year. Since the 1980s, the rate of new cases has been dropping as more people get regular colon cancer screenings and improve their lifestyle risk factors.

New colorectal cancer case rates have been falling on average 1.8% each year from 2010 to 2019.

These figures may be masking an increasing risk of colorectal cancer in younger adults. The rate of new colorectal cancer diagnoses in younger age groups has been rising since the 1990s. From 2012 through 2016, it increased yearly by 2% in people younger than 50 and 1% in people 50 to 64.

Colon Cancer by Ethnicity and Gender

Males are more likely to develop colorectal cancer than females. Black Americans, especially males, are more likely to be diagnosed with and die from colorectal cancer than White males. Non-Hispanic American Indians/Alaska Natives also have very high rates of new cases and deaths from colorectal cancer. 

The American Cancer Society notes that Ashkenazi Jews (descendants from Jewish  populations in eastern Europe) have the highest incidence of developing colorectal cancer of any ethnic group in the world. The data presented in the following tables are from the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER).

Colorectal Cancer in Males by Ethnicity
Ethnicity New Cases  Deaths 
All Races 43.4 16.0
Non-Hispanic White 43.5 15.8
Non-Hispanic Black 52.4 22.7
Non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander 36.4 11.1
Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native 52.3 21.3
Hispanic 41.1 13.7
The table shows new cases of and deaths from colorectal cancer per 100,000 males, broken down by ethnicity. Data from the National Cancer Institute SEER database averaged over the years 2015 to 2019.
Colorectal Cancer in Females by Ethnicity
Ethnicity New Cases  Deaths 
All Races 32.8 11.3
Non-Hispanic White 33.3 11.3
Non-Hispanic Black 38.6 14.8
Non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander 26.0 7.9
Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native 46.5 14.4
Hispanic 29.0 8.5
The table shows new cases of and deaths from colorectal cancer per 100,000 females, broken down by ethnicity. Data from the National Cancer Institute SEER database averaged over the years 2015 to 2019.

Colon Cancer by Age

The chance of developing colon and rectal cancers, like most other cancers, increases with age. As bodies age, the cells develop more damage to their DNA, and the bodies’ defense systems against cancers break down. The chart data is from the National Cancer Institute.

Colorectal Cancer New Cases and Deaths by Age
Age New cases Deaths 
Under 20 0.3% 0%
2034 1.9% 0.7%
3544 4.8% 2.7%
4554 15.1% 9.2%
5564 22.9% 19.3%
6574 25.3% 24.2%
7584 19.1% 23.6%
Over 84 10.6% 20.3%
The table shows how many of the new cases and deaths from colorectal cancer fall into each age group. Data from the National Cancer Institute SEER database averaged over the years 2015 to 2019.

Causes of Colon Cancer and Risk Factors

Lifestyle risk factors for colon cancer include:

  • Excess body weight
  • Lack of physical activity
  • An unhealthy diet 
  • Tobacco smoking
  • Alcohol use

Other factors that contribute include:

What Are the Mortality Rates for Colon Cancer?

Colorectal cancers rank as the third most common cancer, but these cancers are second only to lung cancer in the number of people who die from cancer annually. The five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer of any stage is 65.1%. That means only 65.1% of colorectal cancer patients are alive five years after diagnosis. This is a mortality rate of 34.9%.

This rate varies by how much cancer there is and how advanced the cancer is when it is first diagnosed (its stage). Colorectal cancer that hasn’t spread beyond the bowels is considered localized and has a survival rate of more than 90%.

More often than not, cancer found through colorectal cancer screenings falls into this category. The earlier healthcare providers discover a tumor, the easier it is to treat, and the more likely the person will survive. 

Regional colorectal cancer, which has spread to nearby tissues and lymph nodes, has a 72.8% survival rate. “Distant” cancers—those that have spread to other organs—have the worst five-year survival rate, at 15.1%. Many colorectal cancers are first discovered once they’ve already spread and are at a distant stage. 

Survival Rate

A disease’s survival rate is the percentage of people living with it for a specified time. These figures may be presented in several different ways, as well.

The good news is that screening education campaigns and improved treatment options have helped decrease the death rates for colorectal cancer. Age-adjusted death rates have fallen on average 2.0% annually between 2010 and 2019.

The five-year relative survival rate has been trending upward since the SEER started cataloging cancers. In the 1970s, the relative five-year survival rate of colorectal cancer was around 50%. In more recent years, it has been up to about 67%.

Deaths from colorectal cancer had been steady at around 28 deaths per 100,000 total U.S. population (not just those diagnosed with colorectal cancer) per year until it started dropping in the 1980s. Data from 2019 show just under 13 colorectal cancer deaths per 100,000 people (in the total U.S. population) per year.

Colon Cancer Screening and Early Detection

Colon cancer screening comes in a few different types.

One-third of Americans between age 50 and 75 (currently around 30 million people) are not getting regular colon cancer screenings.

Research evidence suggests that up to 60% of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented if everyone 50 and up got their routine screenings. These screenings would find the cancers before they develop symptoms—early enough to increase treatment success.

At-home stool testing is a relatively new development in colon cancer screenings. These easy-to-use DIY colon screenings may increase screenings and save more lives. Healthcare providers usually offer them after a person has declined a traditional colonoscopy. 

Studies have shown that Cologuard (a brand of FIT-DNA test) can correctly detect colorectal cancer in 92% of asymptomatic people at average risk of the disease.

Summary

Cancers that start in the colon or rectum are called colorectal cancers. Colorectal cancers are the third most common cancer, but they are second only to lung cancer in the number of people they kill annually. 

There are about 150,000 new cases of colorectal cancer every year in the United States. The five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer of any stage is 65.1%.

Rates for new colorectal cancer cases had fallen by an average of 1.8% annually between 2010 and 2019. But this promising may not last, as rates of new cases of colorectal cancer are rising in younger age groups.

11 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.
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