Colorectal cancer-cancer of the colon or rectum-is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. In 2005, 53,005 people in the United States died of colorectal cancer (26,781 men and 26,224 women).

Colorectal cancer also is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the United States. In 2005, 141,405 people in the United States were diagnosed with colorectal cancer (72,007 men and 69,398 women), making it the third most common cancer in men and in women.

Findings from CDC's 2000 National Health Interview Survey indicate that many people who are at risk for colorectal cancer are not being screened. Although screening rates are beginning to rise, they remain too low to achieve the Healthy People 2010 objective for reducing mortality from colorectal cancer. In 2004, about 57% of adults aged 50 years or older reported having received a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) within 1 year and/or a lower endoscopy within 10 years of being surveyed by CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, compared with 54% of adults surveyed in 2002.

A CDC study demonstrated that-

  • About 41.8 million average-risk people aged 50 or older have not been screened for colorectal cancer according to national guidelines.
  • The U.S. health care system has enough capacity to conduct widespread screening of the unscreened population, using FOBT and diagnostic colonoscopy for those with a positive FOBT.
  • Widespread screening with flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy may take up to 10 years, depending on the proportion of available capacity used for colorectal cancer screening.3 4

*Incidence counts cover approximately 96% of the U.S. population. Death counts cover 100% of the U.S. population. Use caution in comparing incidence and death counts.