March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

join with the aacr to find better ways to prevent and treat colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, behind only lung cancer. The National Cancer Institute projects that 153,020 people in the United States will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2023, and approximately 52,550 will die of it.

Many cases of colorectal cancer can be prevented. Screening by colonoscopy can prevent colorectal cancer because precancerous polyps found during the procedure can be removed at the same time. Colonoscopy can also detect colorectal cancers at early stages, when treatment is more likely to be successful.

The five-year relative survival rate for localized colorectal cancer is 90.9 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program. The survival rate drops as the cancer spreads beyond the colon or rectum.

Colorectal cancer is more common in men than women. It is also more common among African Americans than people of other races. The median age of diagnosis in the United States is 66 years, and 78 percent of newly diagnosed patients are aged 55 and older. 

Blacks have higher incidence and mortality rates from colorectal cancer than any other racial group in the United States, a significant cancer health disparity.

Meanwhile, early-onset colorectal cancer—defined as a diagnosis before age 50—is on the rise, currently accounting for about 12 percent of all colorectal cancer cases. The AACR blog, Cancer Research Catalyst, discusses this trend here:
Seeking Clues to Early-onset Colorectal Cancer

Doctors are even seeing more cases of metastatic cancer in people in their twenties and thirties. The AACR journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention (CEBP) published a study of early-onset metastatic colorectal cancer, and a writeup of the article can be found here: Younger Adults Have Sharpest Increase in Metastatic Colorectal Cancer

A collection of articles on this topic published by the CEBP journal can be found here: Early-Onset Colorectal Cancer

The AACR Cancer Disparities Progress Report 2022 examined disparities in the burden of cancer among U.S. racial and ethnic groups including colorectal cancer disparities.

Research presented at the AACR Annual Meeting 2021 found that in colorectal cancer patients under age 50, genetic alterations varied by race, which could help pave the way to understanding more about the disparity. A study led by Andreana Holowatyj, PhD, MS, of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, used data from AACR Project GENIE to examine disparities in early-onset colorectal cancer by exploring somatic mutations among patients from different racial groups. Learn more about Dr. Holowatyj’s research in AACR Stories.

one person’s story

Brian Beck of Ethridge, Tennessee, is living with stage IV colon cancer thanks to timely detection and his participation in clinical trials of new therapies. Four and a half years after his diagnosis, he’s still able to work full time. Read his story in the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2023:

Brian Beck: Living with Stage IV Colon Cancer, Thanks to Clinical Trials and Research

the latest on colorectal cancer

People of African descent who receive genetic testing for colorectal cancer have fewer actionable mutations compared with white people—suggesting fewer available treatment options. Read about it in Cancer Today magazine: Decoding Disparities in Colorectal Cancer.

While colorectal cancer incidence has gone down among older people, incidence rates have steadily increased for people under age 50. Younger people are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage and have unique challenges that come with facing cancer in their prime. More in Cancer Today: Colorectal Cancer in Young People.

The at-home tests Cologuard and FIT have been found equally effective at screening for colorectal cancer and are widely used, but FIT is a fraction of the cost of Cologuard. Read more in Cancer Today: Comparing Costs of At-Home Colorectal Screening Tests.

What the AACR is Doing in the Area of colorectal cancer research

Special Conference

In October 2022, the AACR held the AACR Special Conference: Colorectal Cancer in Portland, Oregon. The meeting brought experts on colorectal cancer together in a virtual space to discuss topics including genetics and new opportunities for cancer prevention; early-onset colorectal cancer; role of the microbiome; and predictive biomarkers, among others.

Supporting Research

The AACR also awards research grants to investigators pursuing promising research related to colorectal cancer.

In 2022, Yuanyuan Fu, PhD, a researcher at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine, received an AACR-Merck Cancer Disparities Research Fellowship to study colorectal cancer among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. Her research goal is to understand how genetic factors contribute to colorectal cancer disparities in this unique population.

“The study will help identify the ethnic-specific genetic effects on tumor progression and target them for therapeutic benefit,” she explained.

In 2020, Karuna Ganesh, MD, PhD, an assistant member at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, received a three-year AACR NextGen Grant for Transformative Cancer Research. To understand how colorectal cancer metastasizes, Dr. Ganesh is performing single-cell analyses of normal/primary/metastatic patient samples, and 3D cell culture models called organoids. He aims to define how colorectal cancer cells morph into regenerative cell states that are required for metastasis. Such an understanding is critical for the development of more effective treatments for metastatic cancer.

“This grant will provide critical funds to enable us to pursue an ambitious program of research to better understand and treat advanced cancers,” says Dr. Ganesh.

Also in 2020, Conghui Yao, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School, received a two-year AACR Anna D. Barker Basic Cancer Research Fellowship. Dr. Yao’s fellowship project is to study the effects of obesity on anti-tumor immunity.

“I hope that my research will provide new insights in the field of cancer biology and contribute to the development of novel cancer therapies,” says Dr. Yao.

for more information

Please see our page on Colorectal Cancer, which includes detailed information on prevention, screening, and treeatement: