Colorectal Cancer: Facts & Figures

Incidence in Minnesota:

Colorectal cancer rates are declining

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosis among Minnesota when looking at males and females separately, and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths. More Minnesotans die of colorectal cancer than either breast or prostate cancer.

The death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping nationally for more than 20 years, partly due to screening and partly due to treatment. Improvements in screening mean that polyps are being found and removed before they turn into cancer, or found earlier when the disease is easier to cure.

Colorectal cancer rates vary by regions

Western Minnesota (the South Central, Southwest, West Central, and Northwest regions) has the highest rates; rates in the Twin Cities metropolitan area are considerably lower. Regional variations may partly reflect differences in the proportion of the population who are screened for pre-cancerous polyps.

From 2010 to 2012, an average of 1,204 males and 1,112 females in Minnesota were diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year. Disparities exist among different races and ethnicities within Minnesota.

Incidence in Minnesota

Age-adjusted rates of new colorectal cancer diagnosis.
Age-adjusted rates of new colorectal cancer diagnosis.

Since 1988, the incidence rate of colorectal cancer has decreased about 35% for all Minnesotans. Most recently, the age-adjusted incidence rate of colorectal cancer was 42.3 new cases per 100,000 males and 34.3 new cases per 100,000 females.

Incidence in Minnesota by race/ethnicity

Age-adjusted rates of new colorectal cancer diagnosis, aggregated from 2003 to 2012.
Age-adjusted rates of new colorectal cancer diagnosis, aggregated from 2003 to 2012.

The figure above shows the age-adjusted incidence rate of colorectal cancer by race/ethnicity. Over the last 10 years, the rate of colorectal cancer was highest among American Indians (about 65 new cases of colorectal cancer per 100,000 American Indians) and lowest among Asian/Pacific Islanders (about 30 new cases of colorectal cancer per 100,000 Asian/Pacific Islanders).

Incidence in Minnesota, by age

Rates of new colorectal cancer diagnoses, aggregated from 2003 to 2012.
Rates of new colorectal cancer diagnoses, aggregated from 2003 to 2012.

Colorectal cancer rates increase with age.


What is colorectal cancer?

www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectalColorectal cancer is cancer that starts in the colon or rectum, and can also be referred to as either colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where the cancer starts. The colon and rectum serve together as the large intestine, part of the digestive system. Most colorectal cancers develop slowly and begin as a non-cancerous polyp on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. The most common type of colorectal cancers is an adenocarcinoma, which accounts for more than 95% of colorectal cancers.

What are risk factors for colorectal cancer?

  • Age: about 9 out of 10 people diagnosed with colorectal cancer are at least 50 years old.
  • Personal history of colorectal polyps or cancer.
  • Family history of colorectal cancer: most colorectal cancers occur in people without a family history but people with a history of colorectal cancer or polyps in close relatives (parents, siblings, or children) are at increased risk. There are some inherited gene defects (mutations) that are linked with colorectal cancers.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a condition in which the colon is inflamed over a long period of time. IBD is different from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is a common disorder that can cause cramping, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, but does not increase the risk for colorectal cancer. 
  • Race: Black people have the highest colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates of all racial groups in the U.S. In Minnesota, American Indians have the highest incidence and mortality rates.
  • Other risk factors: physical inactivity, obesity, smoking, heavy alcohol use, and a diet high in red meats and processed meats.

How can colorectal cancer be prevented?

Colorectal cancer screening is the best way to prevent colorectal cancer. Get screened regularly, even if you don't have symptoms.  Most polyps on the colon or rectum can be found and removed before they have the chance to turn into cancer. Begin regular screening at age 50, unless there is family history or other risk factors, in which case screening should begin earlier. To learn more about these screening tests, see the American Cancer Society: Can colorectal polyps and cancer be found early?

In Minnesota, 69% of adults aged 50-75 years are receiving timely, age-appropriate colorectal cancer screening. Appropriate screening tests can include colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, or fecal blood tests. However, Medicaid patients in Minnesota are far less likely than other patients to get the recommended colorectal screening tests - only about 52% of Medicaid patients aged 50-75 years were screened in 2013. Colorectal cancer screening remains the top disparity between people with private insurance and those covered by state programs, with a gap of about 20% between screening coverage.

Maintain a healthy weight, exercise, and choose a diet low in red meat and processed meat. Limit alcohol use and don't smoke.

The MDH Sage Scopes Screening Program aims to increase the proportion of people screened for colon and rectum cancer statewide. The program offers free colonoscopies and related services for eligible men and women (people that meet age, insurance, and income criteria).