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Facts About Colon Cancer

Back to 2003 Curriculum. 

  • Overall, colon cancers are the third most common cancers in men and women, and the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States

  • Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in Hispanic/Latino men and the second most common cancer in Hispanic/Latino women in the United States

  • For 2003, an estimated 147,500 new cases will be diagnosed in the United States

  • Of these new cancer cases, 105,500 will be colon cancer, and 42,000 will be rectal cancer

  • An estimated 57,100 men and women will die of this disease in 2003, accounting for 10 percent of cancer deaths this year in the United States

  • African-Americans have the highest death rate from colon cancer of any racial or ethnic group in the United States

  • Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in African-American men and the third leading cause in African-American women in the United States

  • Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in Hispanic/Latino men and women in the united States

Risk Factors

Colorectal cancer (commonly referred to as "colon" cancer) develops in the digestive tract, also referred to as the gastrointestinal, or GI tract. The digestive tract processes the food you eat and rids the body of solid waste matter. This cancer usually develops from precancerous changes or growths in the lining of these organs. These growths of tissue protruding into the colon or rectum are called polyps.

  • Age: The risk of colon cancer increases with age. Nearly 90 percent of colon cancer patients are over the age of 50.

  • Race: African-American men and women are at greater risk for developing and dying from colon cancer than men and women of other racial and ethnic groups.

  • Family History: A personal or family history of colon cancer or polyps increases the risk of cancer. People with a history of inflammatory bowel disease also may be at greater risk. In addition, there are a number of hereditary conditions that increase the risk of colon cancer, including familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), Gardner's syndrome, and Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.

  • Use of Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products

  • Physical Inactivity

  • Diet: A diet high in animal fats, such as those found in red meat, can increase a person's chance of developing colon cancer.

Testing & Detection

According to the American Cancer Society guidelines for the early detection of colon cancer, starting at age 50 both men and women should follow one of the following testing options: Yearly fecal occult blood test (FOBT) Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years FOBT yearly and flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years (preferred over either option alone) Double-contrast barium enema every five years Colonoscopy every 10 years