In economically developed countries such as the UK bowel cancer is the most common cancer among non-smokers. In the UK there are now over 37,500 new cases of bowel cancer each year (over 100 every day). This is more than 1 in 8 of all cancers.
Among women (4 out of every 9 cases) bowel cancer is the second commonest cancer after breast cancer. Among men (5 out of 9 cases) it is third commonest after prostate and lung cancer. Using data from England and Wales, the chance of contracting bowel cancer at some stage of your life is 1 in 18 for men and 1 in 20 for women.
Every year in the UK over 16,200 people die of bowel cancer. This is 1 in 9 of all cancer deaths and 1 in 35 (nearly 3%) of deaths from all causes in the UK. Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death after lung cancer.
Progress in treatment
Survival rates for both men and women have doubled (from a quarter to a half) over the past 30 years; there are now an estimated 250,000 people alive in the UK being diagnosed with bowel cancer. Two factors caused this: earlier diagnosis and better treatment.
Progress is continuing. Between 1995 and 2004 the age-standardised (that is, adjusted to take account of differences in the age distribution of the population) death rate fell 18% (almost 1 in 5).
Prevention, and other good news
Around 2 in every 3 bowel cancer cases may be preventable by changes in diet and lifestyle. Also, the disease is highly treatable (that is, a high percentage of patients will be cured) if caught in the early stages.
As the above shows, doctors and scientists have made enormous progress over the past 30 years. However, the fact that bowel cancer is still responsible for 1 in 35 UK deaths emphasises how much work remains to be done.