Colon and Rectal Cancer Awareness

Colon Cancer United States Statistics

Colon Cancer Diagnoses By Stage
Stages I, II, and III account for more than 70% of colon cancer diagnoses. Image © Amber J Tresca

The rates of colon cancer in the United States have, overall, been decreasing in recent years, but it's currently increasing among the under 50 crowd, and the rates of colon cancer are still very high for a disease that is largely preventable. Colon cancer is thought to be caused by polyps growing in the colon. During a colonoscopy, polyps can be removed, which removes their chance to turn cancerous.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in the United States in 2015 there were:

  • About 93,909 new cases of colon cancer
  • About 39.610 new cases of rectal cancer
  • 49,700  deaths from colon and rectal cancer combined

Do you know your risk of colorectal cancer? Do you know if you should be screened? Do you know how to lower your risk? Keep reading to find out more.


The American Cancer Society. "Colorectal Cancer." 13 Aug 2015. 13 Oct 2015.

Do You Have Any Of These Risk Factors For Colon Cancer?

The risk of colon cancer can be affected by a high body mass index (BMI). Photo ©

Colon cancer is the third most common form of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States amongst men and women. The top risk factor is age: Every person older than 50 is at average risk for colon cancer. Other risk factors include:

  • A family history of colon cancer
  • A personal history of colon cancer
  • Long-standing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Personal history of colon polyps
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Diet low in fruits & vegetables


U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. "Screening for Colorectal Cancer: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement." Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality October 2008. 7 Mar 2013.

Women Are Just As Likely As Men To Develop Colon Cancer

Women of 3 Generations
Women are at the same risk of developing colon cancer as men, but for some reason colon cancer is generally thought of as a "man's disease.". Image © David Lees / DigitalVision / Getty Images

It is a myth that colon cancer is a "man's disease." Colon cancer does not affect one gender more than the other -- men have a lifetime risk of 5.7%, and women a lifetime risk of 5.1%.

For some reason, colon cancer is often thought of as a "man's disease." In fact, there is an equal risk of colon cancer for men and women. Women over the age of 75 in particular are more likely to die from colon cancer than from breast cancer.

Screening for colon cancer in the elderly (over the age of 75) is controversial, because the potential harms do not always outweigh the benefits. This might sound like a cold rationalization, but in the elderly, screening tests are often done on a case-by-case basis as determined by geriatricians.

An otherwise healthy 75-year-old might be a good candidate for colon cancer screening, while a 75-year-old in declining health might just be put through the discomfort and expense of the test to no real benefit for them. This is why it is important to have a good working relationship with a geriatrician and a gastroenterologist in the care of elderly patients.


U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. "Screening for Colorectal Cancer: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement." Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. July 2015. 13 Oct 2015.

Wilson AJP. "Colon Cancer Screening in the Elderly: When Do We Stop? 403 403" Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 2010; 121: 94–103. 13 Oct 2015.

Lower Your Risk of Colon Cancer With Exercise And Weight Loss

Running Shoes
Even moderate walking can lower your risk of developing colon cancer. Image © FrancescoCorticchia / E+ / Getty Images

The American Cancer Society advises at least 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week for better health. Engaging in 45 to 60 minutes of "moderate or vigorous activity" on 5 or more days of the week is most effective for lowering the risk of colorectal cancer.

However, any amount of physical activity is preferable to none at all. Even moderate or low- intensity exercise or activities such as a daily walk may lower the risk of colorectal cancer.

How Obesity Contributes To Colon Cancer

Most people know that obesity increases the risk of diseases such as diabetes, but it is also linked to a higher risk of colon cancer. Men in particular who have a high body mass index (BMI) are at an increased risk of developing colon cancer. Carrying more weight in the waist (where men tend to carry extra weight) is associated with more risk than having a similar amount of fat in the hips or thighs (where women tend to carry extra weight).

Body Mass Index (BMI) Categories 
Below 18.5: Underweight
18.5 to 24.9: Normal
25.0 to 29.9: Overweight
30.0 and Above: Obese

How A High Fat Diet Contributes To Colon Cancer

Most of us know that eating a diet high in fats can contribute to heart disease and obesity. It could also contribute to the risk of developing cancer.

Some studies show a high-fat diet increases the risk of colon cancer, and others have shown that it does not. For colon cancer survivors, one study shows that a diet high in meat and refined grains increases the risk of cancer recurrence.

Even though more research is needed before a low-fat diet can be recommended as prevention for colon cancer, a balanced, low-fat, high fiber diet is still the best choice for overall optimal health.


American Cancer Society. "Can Colorectal Cancer Be Prevented?" American Cancer Society, Inc. 13 Aug 2013. 13 Oct 2015.

Chao A, Thun MJ, Connell CJ, McCullough ML, Jacobs EJ, Flanders WD, Rodriguez C, Sinha R, Calle EE. "Meat Consumption and Risk of Colorectal Cancer." JAMA 2005;293:172-182. 13 Oct 2015.

Howard RA, Freedman DM, Park Y, Hollenbeck A, Schatzkin A, Leitzmann MF. "Physical activity, sedentary behavior, and the risk of colon and rectal cancer in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study." Cancer Causes Control Nov 2008. 13 Oct 2015.

Meyerhardt JA, Niedzwiecki D, Hollis D, Saltz LB, Hu FB, Mayer RJ, Nelson H, Whittom R, Hantel A, Thomas J, Fuchs CS."Association of Dietary Patterns With Cancer Recurrence and Survival in Patients With Stage III Colon Cancer." JAMA Aug 15 2007;298:754-764. 13 Oct 2015.

National Cancer Institute. "Obesity and Cancer: Questions and Answers." U.S. National Institutes of Health. 3 Jan 2012. 13 Oct 2015.

A Colectomy Is Not The Most-Used Surgery To Treat Colon Cancer

Cross section biomedical illustration of temporary colostomy
Cross section biomedical illustration of temporary colostomy. Getty Images/Dorling Kindersley

Despite popular opinion, a colectomy is not the most common treatment for colon and rectal cancer. Treatment for colorectal cancer often includes a surgical procedure where a portion of the colon and/or rectum is removed. The ends of the colon are reconnected, and bowel movements continue as normal. The lymph nodes that drain the resected (removed) section are also removed and examined for evidence of cancer cells.

Some people mistakenly believe that surgery to treat colon cancer always requires the creation of a colostomy. A colostomy is the connection of the colon to the skin of the abdomen, allowing for a diversion of stool into an external container or bag. In actuality, a permanent colostomy is usually only necessary when the cancer involves the lowest portion of the rectum (closest to the anus). A temporary colostomy may sometimes be used to allow the bowel to heal after surgery to treat colon cancer. The temporary colostomy is then reversed in a few months, and the patient goes to the bathroom out of the rectum again.


American Cancer Society. "How Is Colorectal Cancer Treated?" American Cancer Society, Inc. 31 Dec 2014. 13 Oct 2015.

National Cancer Institute. "Colon Cancer Treatment." U.S. National Institutes of Health. 22 Jul 2015. 13 Oct 2015.