Colorectal Cancer Statistics

It’s estimated that this year, 137,000 men & women will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer while another 50,000 will die from it.

Did you know:

  • Colorectal cancer is the #2 leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women in the U.S.
  • Colorectal cancer accounts for nearly 10% of cancer deaths in the U.S.
  • 1 in 3 adults aged 50-75 are NOT up-to-date with recommended colorectal cancer screening.
  • The median age at diagnosis is 69 years old.
  • 1 in 20 (around 5%) men and women will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their lifetime.
  • African Americans are more likely to develop colorectal cancer. Screening rates are lower than average in this group so they are more likely to be diagnosed after the cancer has spread to other organs.
  • Each year, colorectal cancer treatment costs the U.S. $8.4 billion.
  • Those less-likely to get tested include Hispanics, people aged 50-64, men, American Indian or Alaska natives, those in rural areas and people with lower education and income.

Sources:  National Cancer Institute, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, American Cancer Society

But, there’s good news:

  • In March 2014, American Cancer Society released data showing colon cancer incidence rates have dropped 30% in the U.S. in the last 10 years among adults ages 50 and older due to the widespread uptake of colonoscopy, with the largest decrease occurring in those ages 65 and older. source
  • In January of 2013, the American Cancer Society reported a 30% decrease in the mortality rate for colorectal cancer.
  • There has been a decline in lives lost to cancer (1991 to 2009) and we have seen a 30% decrease in the mortality rate for colorectal cancer.
  • The likelihood of dying from colorectal cancer has been decreasing due to screening.
  • There are more than 1 million survivors of colorectal cancer in the United States.
  • Over 60% of deaths from colorectal cancer could be avoided with screening.
  • The CDC created the Colorectal Cancer Control Program (CRCCP) and provided the necessary funds to establish colorectal cancer programs in 25 states and 4 tribes across the United States.
  • The Screen for Life: National Colorectal Cancer Action Campaign launched in 1999 to encourages men and women aged 50 years or older to be screened regularly for colorectal cancer.

And what about the young adults?

  • SEER data shows that while new colorectal cancers in older adults (ages 50+) have fallen consistently since 1985, rates for people under 50 have risen, particularly for rectal cancer.  After 2001, there was an average annual increase of 2.1 percent in young onset colorectal cancer compared to a decrease of 2.5 percent yearly for those 50 and older. Rectal cancer cases increased even more rapidly in younger patients at an average annual change of 3.9 percent.  
  • Based on current research, the median age of younger patients was 44, with 3 out of 4 (75.2 percent) diagnosed in their forties.
  • An NIH study found most patients diagnosed under age 50 experience signs & symptoms, have left-colon or rectal cancers and are diagnosed with more advanced disease. If you are younger than 50 and have symptoms, you need to determine the cause of the symptoms.

Why is it happening?

Studies suggest that lack of access to health care and a lack of awareness in both young patients and their doctors of the importance of symptoms of colon and rectal cancer are causing the higher incidence of colon cancer and rectal cancer in young adults under age 50.

Survival Statistics

One of the first questions that most patients ask their doctor or ask themselves is “How long do I have?” Cancer and dying are closely linked in our minds, and, whether we want to ask the question or not, worry about dying from colorectal cancer is always in the back of the mind of patients and caregivers.

Don’t be surprised if your doctor doesn’t give you a firm answer. Survival, even when cancer has spread and is at an advanced stage, is remarkably individual. And treatment options are improving all the time.  Your doctor may be able to provide you with statistics for people with diagnoses similar to yours, but your case is your own!

Doctors use different terms in discussing statistical chances for survival. Remember that these are only statistics and you are an individual! Statistical information about survival helps in developing new treatments for cancer and deciding their effectiveness. But, survival predictions for individuals are not always reliable and they can significantly add to your worry.

  • Five-Year Overall Survival: the percentage of patients alive at five years, including deaths only from cancer (see chart below.)
  • Median Overall Survival: the time at which 50 percent of patients are still alive after a diagnosis or particular treatment.
  • Median disease-free survival: the time at which 50 percent of patients are still alive without evidence of tumor recurrence.
  • Recurrence: A return of cancer after it has been initially treated  (for example, a person with stage II disease whose cancer comes back after treatment is said to have a ‘recurrence.’)

Most of the time, doctors will give you the five-year overall survival statistics which are based on the stage of cancer at diagnosis and data from the past. They do not reflect current standards of care. Recent improvements in chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy have increased relative survival for people diagnosed at stages II and III and the length of time that people with metastatic (stage IV or recurrent) cancer will live.

Stage Distribution and Five-year Relative Survival by Stage at Diagnosis for 2003-2009, All Races, Both Sexes

Stage at Diagnosis

Distribution (%)

Relative Survival (%)

Localized (confined to primary site) – stage I and II



Regional (spread to regional lymph nodes) – stage III



Distant (cancer has metastasized) – stage IV and recurrent cancer



Unknown (unstaged)




In other words, 70.4 percent of patients diagnosed with stage III colorectal cancer from 2003-2009 were alive after five years.  This is significant because recurrence is most common within three years of diagnosis – so most of the people who survived are probably cancer-free.

Unhappily, we don’t yet have a cure for metastatic colorectal cancer so today, the majority of people with that diagnosis will die from the disease.  New treatments are increasing the time people live with metastatic cancer – in 1999, the average survival after a diagnosis was nine months.  Today it is almost three years – and again, that’s an average.

Dr. Stephen Gould, an evolutionary biologist, wrote about the challenge of applying “average” statistics to an individual patient in his essay The Median Is Not The Message.


Looking for more colorectal cancer information?

Please contact our Resource Line for more information about colon and rectal cancer.


Reviewed by: Heather Hampel MS, CGC

Masters in Science, Certified Genetics Counselor


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