Colorectal cancer – the third most common form of cancer

Colorectal cancer also known as intestinal or rectal cancer, is a form of cancer that arises from uncontrolled cell growth in the large intestine, rectum or appendix.

The disease often develops slowly for several years. It begins as a protruding tissue growth, called a polyp, that starts out in the mucus membrane and then grows into the intestinal cavity. Polyps can be cancerogenic, meaning they can develop into a cancer if they are not removed. Eventually, the cancer can break through the intestinal wall and spread to other organs. This is known as metastatic colorectal cancer, or mCRC.

Third most common cancer

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosis globally after lung and breast cancer, and the second deadliest. It affects both men and women with an equal distribution between the genders. However, there are differences in its localization, as more men are affected by rectal cancer and more women by colon cancer. CRC mainly affects older people, with the majority becoming ill after the age of 70. The global incidence (the number of new patients who are diagnosed with this form of cancer annually) was just over 1,9 million patients a year in 2020*, while about 935,000 died from the disease that year.

The causes are partly environmental and hereditary

As with most other forms of cancer, there is no single known triggering factor for CRC. It is believed that the risk can be affected by diet and hereditary factors. Smoking and lifestyles leading to obesity also increase the risk.

High mortality rates

Despite improvements in the prognosis for patients with CRC over the past decade, the prognosis for survival is worse compared to patients with breast or prostate cancer, and CRC is the second most common cause of global cancer-related death after lung cancer. The prognosis for survival is better with an early diagnosis. CRC can be detected early by screening stool samples for blood, which reduces mortality. Patients in later stages, when the cancer has spread to other organs (known as metastases), have a worse prognosis and significantly higher mortality. Only 10 percent of patients with mCRC are still alive five years after diagnosis*.

* Source: 1) GLOBOCAN 2020, Cancer Incidence and Mortality Worldwide, 2) GlobalData 2020

Last updated 11-30-2022

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