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 estimates that 152,810 people in the United States will receive a diagnosis of colon or rectal cancer in 2024, and approximately 53,010 will die of it.

Colorectal cancer awareness is important because many cases of cancer of the colon or rectum are preventable. Screening by colonoscopy can prevent this cancer because precancerous polyps found during the procedure can be removed at the same time. Furthermore, colonoscopy can also detect the cancer at early stages, when treatment is more likely to be successful.

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

Cancer of the colon or rectum 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, while about 78 percent of newly diagnosed patients are aged 55 and older. 

Colorectal Cancer awareness: early onset

The AACR’s Cancer Progress Report 2023 reported on the rise in early-onset colorectal cancer — defined as a diagnosis before age 50. The incidence of early-onset colorectal cancer has increased about 2 percent per year in recent years. Ominously, it now accounts for about 12 percent of all colon or rectal 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. A writeup of the article is here: Younger Adults Have Sharpest Increase in Metastatic Colorectal Cancer

AACR’s magazine Cancer Today discussed the unique challenges that come with facing cancer in the prime of life. More in Cancer Today: Colorectal Cancer in Young People.

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 participation in clinical trials of new therapies. Indeed, 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 colon or rectal cancer have fewer actionable mutations compared with white people. Consequently, this suggests they have fewer treatment options. Read about it in Cancer Today magazine: Decoding Disparities in Colorectal Cancer.

Colorectal cancer awareness has led to greater use of at-home screening tests like Cologuard and FIT. These widely-used tests are equally effective. However, 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

The AACR awards research grants to investigators pursuing promising research related to cancer of the colon or rectum.

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 patient samples and 3D cell culture models called organoids. She aims to define how colorectal cancer cells morph into regenerative cell states that can help the cancer metastasize. 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.

for more information

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