Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
Approximately 52,580 people living in the United States died of colorectal cancer in 2022, according to federal estimates. Although this type of cancer can be preventable, it is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States behind only lung cancer.
Colonoscopy screening can prevent colorectal cancer because precancerous polyps found during the procedure can be removed at the same time. The procedure can also detect colorectal cancers at early stages, when successful treatment is more likely. In fact, 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.
In 2022, an estimated 151,030 people in the United States were diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
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% 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
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.
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. The 2020 report featured Tristana Vásquez who was diagnosed with metastatic colorectal cancer at the age of 38 and advocating for increased awareness of colorectal cancer among Hispanics in Puerto Rico.
What Is the AACR Doing in the Area of colorectal cancer research?
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.
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.