Colorectal Cancer

Facts About Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer, often referred to as colon cancer, develops in the colon or the rectum (known as the large bowel or large intestine). The colon and rectum are parts of the digestive system, which is also called the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The digestive system processes food for energy and eliminates solid waste. CRC usually develops slowly over many years. Most colorectal cancer begins as a noncancerous (benign) adenoma or polyp (abnormal growth) that develops on the lining of the colon or rectum. Polyps can be removed to significantly reduce cancer risk. Colonoscopy plays an important role in colorectal cancer prevention because precancerous polyps can be detected and removed during the same exam when they are discovered.

  • Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States (when men and women are combined). It is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths when men and women are considered separately (behind lung and prostate cancer in men, and behind lung and breast cancer in women).
  • Nearly 137,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year and over 50,000 die because of it annually.
  • The majority of CRC can be prevented with proper screening, early detection and removal of adenomatous polyps (precancerous polyps). Screening helps prevent CRC by finding precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.
  • According to a 2013 report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in three adults (23 million) between the ages of 50 and 75 years old are not getting screened for colorectal cancer as recommended. Exercise and eating healthy foods such as vegetables and fruits can help decrease the risk of colorectal cancer, but screening is an essential part of colorectal cancer prevention.
  • As of November 2010, there is no federal law requiring all insurers to cover the cost of preventative CRC screenings. However, enactment of the Affordable Care Act requires coverage of CRC screenings for certain populations depending on an individual’s insurance plan. So far only 30 states have passed laws requiring coverage for screening of CRC, a cancer causing 50,000 deaths per year. In contrast, 50 states have passed legislation requiring coverage of screening for breast cancer, a cancer causing 40,000 deaths per year. Additional efforts to improve colorectal cancer screening are needed. Medicare covers colonoscopy once every ten years for those 65 and over at average risk.
  • In February 2013, the federal government issued an important clarification on preventive screening benefits under the Affordable Care Act. Patients with private insurance will no longer be liable for cost sharing when a precancerous colon polyp is removed during screening colonoscopy. This ensures that colorectal cancer screening is available to privately insured patients at no additional cost, as intended by the new healthcare law. Patients with Medicare coverage must still pay a coinsurance when a polyp is removed as a result of the screening colonoscopy. Click here for the guidance language provided by the administration. Patients with private insurance should check with their individual providers to learn the details of their coverage and ask about the Affordable Care Act.
  • The incidence of CRC and the death rate from the disease has dropped for the past 15 years. Scientists believe that the decrease is probably because polyps are being found and removed by colonoscopy before becoming cancer. Also, CRC is being found earlier when it is easier to cure, and treatments for cancer once it has occurred have improved. There are approximately one million CRC survivors in the United States and that number is growing. According to American Cancer Society data released in 2014, colorectal cancer incidence rates have dropped 30 percent in the U.S. in the last 10 years among adults 50 and older due to the widespread uptake of colonoscopy.
  • The five-year survival rate for people with CRC discovered early is greater than 90 percent. But only 39 percent of CRCs are found at that early stage. Five-year survival rapidly declines when the cancer has spread to nearby organs or lymph nodes.
  • Individuals who have a family member (parent, brother or sister, or child) with colorectal cancer or polyps are at increased risk for developing the disease themselves and may need to undergo more aggressive screening starting at a younger age. Individuals who have more than one family member with colorectal cancer or with other types of cancers may be at even higher risk.

Learn more about Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer


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