Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the United States, with more than 150,000 new diagnoses each year. But its prevalence varies considerably by age, race, sex, and geographical region.

Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States and worldwide. It affects the lower gastrointestinal tract, including the colon and the rectum. People often use “colorectal cancer” interchangeably with bowel, colon, and rectal cancer.

This article explores colorectal cancer prevalence rates according to age, race, sex, and region.

Your risk of colorectal cancer increases rapidly with age.

An American Cancer Society report estimates that people over age 65 years will account for more than half of all new colorectal cancer diagnoses and more than two-thirds of all colorectal cancer deaths in the United States in 2023.

The report also includes the following breakdown of new colorectal cancer diagnoses and deaths by age:

AgeU.S. colorectal cancer diagnoses in 2023U.S. colorectal cancer deaths in 2023
0–4919,550 (13%)3,750 (7%)
50–6448,210 (32%)13,160 (25%)
65 and older85,260 (56%)35,640 (68%)

However, colorectal cancer rates among young people are rising.

What is the survival rate of colorectal cancer in young adults?

Young adults have a higher relative 5-year survival rate than older adults. According to the American Cancer Society, the relative 5-year survival rates for all stages of colorectal cancer are:

  • 68% for people ages 49 or younger at diagnosis
  • 70% for people ages 50–64 at diagnosis
  • 60% for people ages 65 or older at diagnosis

However, keep in mind that survival rates vary significantly according to the stage at diagnosis. Rates range from 10% for people ages 65 and older with colorectal cancer that has spread to 94% for younger people with cancer that has not spread.

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The American Cancer Society also highlights significant differences in rates of colorectal cancer between the following racial and ethnic groups:

Race and ethnicityColorectal cancer rate, 2015–2019
(cases per 100,000 people)
American Indian and Alaska Native48.6
Asian American and Pacific Islander28.6

Keep in mind there are important differences within the broad categories mentioned above. For example, the rate of colorectal cancer among the Alaska Native population (88.5 cases per 100,000 people) is almost double that of the American Indian population (46.0 per 100,000 people).

Racial disparities also contribute to differences in death rates. For example, the authors of a 2019 study found that colorectal cancer screening rates for Black Americans were lower than the national average due to systemic barriers that prevent them from accessing healthcare.

Colorectal cancer is more common in males than in females. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), colorectal cancer was 30% more common in males in 2020 and about 44% more fatal.

There’s very little research investigating colorectal cancer prevalence and mortality rates in people who are not cisgender.

However, the authors of a 2022 study with 143 transgender people found that 30% faced at least one barrier to colorectal cancer screening, which could contribute to a higher rate of death.

According to the CDC, there were 126,240 new U.S. colorectal cancer diagnoses in 2020. Each year, 32.5 out of every 100,000 people in the United States will develop colorectal cancer.

This rate varies from state to state. The lowest annual rates of newly diagnosed colorectal cancer are in the following states:

StateColorectal cancer rate, 2020
(cases per 100,000 people)
1. Utah27.2
2. Colorado27.4
3. Delaware27.5
4. Arizona27.6
5. Vermont27.9

In contrast, the five states with the highest rates of newly diagnosed colorectal cancer are:

StateColorectal cancer rate, 2020
(cases per 100,000 people)
1. Kentucky41.2
2. West Virginia40.8
2. Alaska40.8
4. Louisiana39.5
5. Mississippi39.4

Experts link differences between states to different rates of colorectal cancer risk factors and access to screening and other preventive healthcare.

How common is colorectal cancer screening in the United States?

The American Cancer Society recommends that everyone ages 45 years and older get screening for colorectal cancer.

According to 2020 survey data from the CDC, testing for colorectal cancer among target groups (typically people ages 45 and older) tends to be higher in Northeastern states and lower in Western states. In particular:

  • The states with the lowest colorectal cancer screening rates are California (53%), Wyoming (55%), Wisconsin (55%), and Oklahoma (56%).
  • The states with the highest colorectal cancer screening rates are Massachusetts (70%), the District of Columbia (70%), Maine (69%), and Rhode Island (69%).
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Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide, according to data from the Global Cancer Observatory, a cancer statistics platform owned by the World Health Organization (WHO). But incidence rates vary significantly from one region to the next.

The age-standardized rates of new colorectal cancer cases are highest in Europe, with 30.4 cases per 100,000 people each year. Rates are lowest in Africa, with 8.4 cases of colorectal cancer per 100,000 people each year.

According to the American Cancer Society, lifestyle factors are responsible for 55% of colorectal cancers.

Although it’s not always possible to prevent colorectal cancer, you can lower your risk by adopting certain habits. Try the following:

  • Stay active: Getting regular physical activity can reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Eat a balanced diet: Opt for a nutrient-dense, balanced diet of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and dairy products. Avoid or limit ultra processed foods, like fast food, and red meat.
  • Lower your alcohol intake: High alcohol consumption increases your risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Avoid or quit smoking, if you do: A qualified healthcare professional, such as a doctor or pharmacist, can help you learn more about quitting smoking.
  • Undergo screening: If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, ask a doctor about early screening options.

Cancers of the colon and rectum are common around the world. The rate of colorectal cancer varies based on age, race, sex, and region.

Some known risk factors include older age, being male, and certain lifestyle factors, such as heavy alcohol consumption, a diet high in red meat, and smoking.

If you think you might be at risk, talk with a healthcare professional to learn more about colorectal cancer screening options.