Bowel (colorectal) cancer is a common disease. It is one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers in the world: it ranks third, behind lung cancer and liver cancer, and it affects almost as many women as men.


Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the world.


People dying from bowel cancer worldwide every year.

1.4 Million

New cases of bowel cancer diagnosed each year globally.

Around the world, three new cases of bowel cancer are diagnosed every minute, and this varies among different countries. The rate bowel cancer is particularly high in Australia, United States, certain South American countries, Europe, New Zealand, and more recently in Japan. Studies have shown that socioeconomic status is an important risk factor for bowel cancers. A difference in exposure to risk factors (especially food) could explain this difference.

In addition, low incomes, a low level of education, and insufficient health cover would limit access to appropriate preventive, diagnostic, and treatments for lower income patients. However, the stage of the tumour at the time of diagnosis is the main factor in survival.

With early screening and management, bowel cancer is cured in 90% of cases.

In Australia

The occurrence of bowel cancer in Australia is high. 15,494 Australians are expected to be diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2020, making it the 4th most common cancer after breast cancer, prostate cancer and melanomas. Approximately 5,322 Australians will die from bowel cancer in 2020, making it the second most deadly cancer after lung cancer.

A changing tumour

Bowel cancer develops from a cell in the inner lining of the colon (large intestine) or rectum, often by progressive transformation of a benign tumour, also known as a polyp.

The risk of transformation of a polyp into cancer varies, depending on the size and type of cells in the benign tumour. At first, bowel cancer grows locally. Then, cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body (metastases) most often to the liver and lungs.