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Cancer Snapshots: Disease Focused and Other Snapshots

  • Posted: 12/02/2013

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A Snapshot of Colorectal Cancer

Incidence and Mortality

Colorectal cancer is the third most common non-skin cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related mortality in men and women in the United States. Over the past decade, colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates have decreased in all racial/ethnic populations except American Indians/Alaska Natives. Men and women have similar incidence and mortality rates through age 50; after age 50, rates are higher in men.

Differences exist between racial and ethnic groups in both incidence and mortality. African Americans have higher mortality rates than all other racial/ethnic groups and higher incidence rates than all except American Indians/Alaska Natives. Incidence and mortality rates are lowest among Hispanics and Asians/Pacific Islanders. Overall colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates have been declining over the past two decades; these declines have been attributed largely to increased use of screening tests.

Risk factors for colorectal cancer include increasing age, colorectal polyps, a family history of colorectal cancer, and certain genetic mutations. Effective colorectal cancer screening tests include the fecal occult blood test, sigmoidoscopy, and colonoscopy. These screening tests enable detection and removal of polyps that may progress to cancer. Standard treatments for colorectal cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted therapy.

It is estimated that approximately $14.1 billion1 is spent in the United States each year on colorectal cancer treatment. 

Line graphs showing U.S. Colorectal Cancer Incidence and mortality per 100,000, by race and ethnicity, between 1990-2010.  In 2010, American Indians/Alaska Natives have the highest incidence, followed by African Americans, whites, Asians/Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics. In 2010, African Americans have the highest mortality followed by American Indians/Alaska Natives, whites, Hispanics, and Asians/Pacific Islanders.

Examples of NCI Activities Relevant to Colorectal Cancer

Selected Advances in Colorectal Cancer Research

Pie chart of NCI Colorectal Cancer Research Portfolio.  Percentage of total dollars by scientific area.  Fiscal year 2012.  Biology, 17%.  Etiology/causes of cancer, 17%.  Prevention, 13%.  Early detection, diagnosis, and prognosis, 15%.  Treatment, 17%.  Cancer control, survivorship, and outcomes research, 17%.  Scientific model systems 4%.
  • A chemically modified form of the chemoprevention agent sulindac is less toxic and more effectively suppresses colon cancer cell growth. Published May 2012. [PubMed Abstract]
  • The genomic alterations in colon and rectal tumors are the same; thus, colon and rectal tumors constitute a single type of cancer. Published July 2012. [PubMed Abstract]
  • There is a correlation between the number of colorectal polyps and the frequency of mutations in the tumor suppressor gene APC among people with classic polyposis. Published August 2012. [PubMed Abstract]
  • A comprehensive search for gene-gene interactions in colorectal cancer may provide insights into the genetic etiology of colorectal cancer. Published December 2012. [PubMed Abstract]
  • See this PubMed list of selected free full-text journal articles on NCI-supported research relevant to colorectal cancer. You can also search PubMed for additional scientific articles or to complete a search tutorial.

Trends in NCI Funding for Colorectal Cancer Research

The National Cancer Institute's (NCI) investment2 in colorectal cancer research decreased from $273.4 million in fiscal year (FY) 2008 to $256.3 million in FY 2012. In addition to this funding, NCI supported $58.6 million in colorectal cancer research in FY 2009 and FY 2010 using funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).3

Bar graph of NCI Colorectal Cancer Research Investment in 2008-2012: Fiscal year (FY) 2008, $273.4 million Colorectal Cancer Funding of $4.83 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2009, $264.2 million Colorectal Cancer Funding of $4.97 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2010, $270.4 million Colorectal Cancer Funding of $5.10 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2011, $265.1 million Colorectal Cancer Funding of $5.06 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2012, $256.3 million Colorectal Cancer Funding of $5.07 billion Total NCI Budget.

Additional Resources for Colorectal Cancer


  • 1 Cancer Trends Progress Report, in 2010 dollars.
  • 2 The estimated NCI investment is based on funding associated with a broad range of peer-reviewed scientific activities. For additional information on research dgeting at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), see About NIH.
  • 3 For more information regarding ARRA funding at NCI, see Recovery Act Funding at NCI.