Health and Economic Benefits of Colorectal Cancer Interventions

At a glance

  • Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States
  • It generated $24.3 billion in medical spending in 2020, accounting for 12.6% of all cancer treatment costs.
  • More routine screening would reduce cases, deaths, and costs.
Portrait of middle-aged couple

Colorectal cancer in the United States

Among cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. Age is the biggest risk factor. About 9 in 10 colorectal cancer cases are among men and women aged 50 or older.1

Quick facts

  • 142,462 new cases of colorectal cancer were diagnosed in 2019, and 51,896 people died of it.1
  • Non-Hispanic Black people have the highest rate of new cancer cases and deaths.1
  • Early-stage colorectal cancer does not usually cause symptoms.

The high cost of colorectal cancer

In 2020, the cost of colorectal cancer care was $24.3 billion:2

  • Colorectal cancer has the second highest treatment cost of any cancer, accounting for 12.6% of all cancer treatment costs.
  • The cost for medical services was $23.7 billion and $0.6 billion for prescription drugs.
  • If cancer diagnosis and treatment were divided into phases of care, then the initial phase would be the first year after a diagnosis, the end-of-life phase would be the year before death from cancer, and the continuing care phase would be the time in between these two phases. The average per-patient costs for medical services were highest for the last year of life ($110,100), followed by the initial care phase ($66,500) and continuing care phase ($6,200).
  • The average per-patient costs for oral prescription drugs were highest for the last year of life ($1,400), followed by the initial care phase ($400) and continuing care phase (approximately $200).

Strategies that work

CDC is working to prevent cancer, detect it early, and improve the health of people with cancer, which can save lives and reduce health care costs.

The most effective way to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer is routine screening, beginning at age 45, for people who are at average risk.3 Screening tests can find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.3 Screening tests also can find colorectal cancer early, when treatment is most effective.2

However, even when screening is available, fewer than 35% of colorectal cancers are found at an early stage.1 In 2020, only 70% of adults aged 50 to 75 years were up-to-date with screening by fecal immunochemical test (FIT), sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy.4 Adults without health insurance are less likely to be screened.5

Benefits of using proven strategies

More colorectal cancer screening would:

  • DECREASE the number of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Increasing screening prevalence to 80% could reduce the number of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer by 22% by 2030.6
  • REDUCE deaths. Increasing screening prevalence to 80% could reduce deaths from colorectal cancer by 33% by 2030.5
  • PREVENT or detect cancer sooner when it is easier to treat. Almost 88% of adults diagnosed with colorectal cancer at an early stage live for 5 years or more, compared to only 16% of those diagnosed with late-stage cancer.1
  • REDUCE health care spending. Increasing screening prevalence to 70% could reduce Medicare spending by $14 billion* in 2050.7

* Costs were measured in 2010 U.S. dollars. Older cost estimates are likely to be underestimates.

What is CDC doing?

CDC's Colorectal Cancer Control Program (CRCCP) awards funding to 35 recipients: 20 states, 8 universities, 2 tribal organizations, and 5 other organizations. CRCCP award recipients partner with health systems that serve high-need populations to help them use interventions recommended in the Guide to Community Preventive Services to increase colorectal cancer screening among eligible adults.

Recommended interventions include:

  • Using patient and provider reminder systems.
  • Assessing the performance of health care providers and giving them feedback to help them improve.
  • Reducing structural barriers to screening—for example, by offering longer clinic hours, services at local worksites, and help with paperwork or transportation.


Since 2015, the CRCCP has worked with more than 800 clinics serving more than 1.3 million U.S. adults aged 45 to 75 who are eligible for colorectal cancer screening. Among the clinics recruited in 2015, screening rates increased from a median rate of 42.9% in 2016 to 55.2% in 2019.
  1. Cancer Statistics Working Group. U.S. Cancer Statistics Data Visualizations Tool, based on 2021 submission data (1999–2019). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Cancer Institute. November 2022.
  2. National Cancer Institute. Financial burden of cancer care. Cancer Trends Progress Report. Updated April 2022. Accessed September 29, 2022.
  3. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force; Davidson KW, Barry MJ, Mangione CM, et al. Screening for colorectal cancer: US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. JAMA. 2021;325(19):1965–1977. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.6238
  4. Use of colorectal cancer screening tests. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last updated November 3, 2021. Accessed November 7, 2022.
  5. White A, Thompson TD, White MC, et al. Cancer screening test use — United States, 2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017;66:201–206.
  6. Meester RG, Doubeni CA, Zauber AG, et al. Public health impact of achieving 80% colorectal cancer screening rates in the United States by 2018. Cancer. 2015;121(13):2281–2285.
  7. Goede SL, Kuntz KM, van Ballegooijen M, et al. Cost-savings to Medicare from pre-Medicare colorectal cancer screening. Medical Care. 2015;53(7):630–638.