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Basic Information About Colorectal Cancer

Photo of two middle-aged couples.

Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the colon or rectum, it is called colorectal cancer. Sometimes it is called colon cancer, for short.

Colorectal cancer affects men and women of all racial and ethnic groups, and is most often found in people aged 50 years or older. In the United States, it is the third most common cancer for men and women.

Of cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States, but it doesn't have to be. Colorectal cancer screening saves lives. Screening can find precancerous polyps—abnormal growths in the colon or rectum—so that they can be removed before turning into cancer. Screening also helps find colorectal cancer at an early stage, when treatment often leads to a cure. About nine out of every 10 people whose colorectal cancers are found early and treated appropriately are still alive five years later.

If you are aged 50 or older, get screened now. If you think you may be at higher than average risk for colorectal cancer, speak with your doctor about getting screened early.

While screening rates have increased in the U.S., not enough people are getting screened for colorectal cancer. In 2012, 65% of U.S. adults were up-to-date with colorectal cancer screening; 7% had been screened, but were not up-to-date; and 28% had never been screened.

Data source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Vital Signs: Colorectal cancer screening test use—United States, 2012. MMWR 2013;62(44):881–888.

Where feasible, the 25 states and 4 tribes in CDC’s Colorectal Cancer Control Program provide colorectal cancer screening and follow-up care to low-income men and women aged 50–64 years who are underinsured or uninsured for screening, when resources are available and there is no other payment option.