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Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the United States. In 2010, 131,607 people in the United States were diagnosed with it (67,700 men and 63,907 women), making colorectal cancer the third most common cancer in men and in women. Of cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. In 2010, 52,045 people in the United States died of colorectal cancer (27,073 men and 24,972 women).

Screening for colorectal cancer helps prevent this disease. Screening can find precancerous polyps (abnormal growths), so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening also finds colorectal cancer early, when treatment is the most effective.  The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening for colorectal cancer using high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy beginning at age 50 years and continuing until age 75 years. However, certain individuals at high risk should be screened earlier than 50 and more often than other people. Those in this group include individuals:

  • Who have a close relative have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer

  • Who have inflammatory bowel disease

  • Who have genetic syndromes such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer

Nevertheless, anyone can get colorectal cancer. The lifetime risk of being diagnosed with cancer of the colon or rectum is about 5.5% for men and 5.1% for women in the U.S. Although 20% - 25% of colorectal cancer cases occur among individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer or a predisposing illness, about 75% of cases occur in people without these risk factors.

The great majority of these cancers and deaths are preventable. Everyone should speak with their doctor about when to begin screening and how often to be tested.

Recommended Reading

U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. United States Cancer Statistics: 1999–2010 Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report. Atlanta (GA): Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Cancer Institute; 2013. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/uscs.



CDC website: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/basic_info/facts.htm