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Bowel cancer rates in England have risen since 1971

Mortality rates fall and survival estimates improve during same period

Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the third most common cancer among both men and women in England. To draw attention to the disease and the importance of early detection, the month of April is designated Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. 

Incidence rate increase more pronounced in men

Between 1971 and 2010, incidence rates of bowel cancer increased by 36% for men and 15% for women. For men, this increase was more marked during the 1970s and 1980s. For women, there has been a gradual overall increase since 1971.

In 2010, the incidence rate was 58 new cases per 100,000 men, and 38 new cases per 100,000 women. This equates to just under 19,000 newly diagnosed cases in men, and just over 15,000 in women. It is estimated that 1 in 14 men and 1 in 19 women will develop bowel cancer at some point in their lives (Cancer Research UK, 2010).

As with many cancers, the biggest risk factors for bowel cancer are age and family history (Cancer Research UK, 2012). In 2010, 71% of newly diagnosed cases in men, and 74% of those in women, were among those aged 65 and older.

Figure 1: Bowel cancer incidence and mortality rates, by sex, England, 1971−2010

Figure 1: Bowel cancer incidence and mortality rates, by sex, England, 1971−2010
Source: Office for National Statistics


  1. Age-standardised rates per 100,000 population, standardised using the European Standard Population

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Five-year survival estimates improve

In 2010, around 7,000 men and 6,000 women died of bowel cancer. This made it the third most common cause of cancer death, after lung and prostate cancer for men, and lung and breast cancer for women. But mortality rates have fallen. Between 1971 and 2010, they decreased by 38% for men and 51% for women.

Bowel cancer includes colon cancer and rectal cancer. Five-year survival estimates for those diagnosed with colon cancer in 1971−1975 and followed up to 1995 were 26% for men and 25% for women. Survival estimates for the same period for those diagnosed with rectal cancer were 27% for males and 29% for women (Coleman et al, 1999). The corresponding figures for those diagnosed with colon cancer in 2006−2010 and followed up to 2011 were 55% for men and 56% for women, and 55% for men and 58% for women diagnosed with rectal cancer (Office for National Statistics, 2012).

New NHS screening programme

In most cases, bowel cancer can be successfully treated when detected early. With this in mind, the National Health Service introduced a new screening program in 2006, sending home testing kits every two years to all those aged 60–69.

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Cancer Research UK (2010). Lifetime risk of cancer.

Cancer Research UK (2012). What do we know about diet and bowel cancer.

Coleman MP, Babb P, Damiecki P, Grosclaude P, Honjo S, Jones J, et al. (1999). Cancer survival trends in England and Wales, 1971-1995: deprivation and NHS region. London: Stationery Office.

Office for National Statistics (2012). Cancer survival in England: patients diagnosed 2006-2010 and followed up to 2011.


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Categories: Health and Social Care, Health of the Population, Conditions and Diseases, Cancer, Cancer Mortality
Content from the Office for National Statistics.
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