Colorectal Cancer Incidence Is Rising

In California, we will see 16,200 new cases of colon and rectal cancers this year. Across the United States, there will be an estimated 106,590 new cases of colon cancer and 46,220 new cases of rectal cancer, leading to an estimated 53,010 combined deaths.1

Though colon cancer incidences have declined overall, research has shown a new trend: the number of younger people developing colorectal cancer has risen.1,2,3 Subsequently, three years ago the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent panel of experts funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, lowered the screening age for colon cancer from 50 to 45 years old. Now, because of the increase of colon cancer cases in our younger populations, “some researchers believe the age for screening should be even younger than 45 years old,” explains Dr. Anton Bilchik.

Colorectal cancers affect men more than women, especially in our Native American populations and African Americans. People of these ethnicities also have the highest rates for colon and rectal cancers. Due to the number of health inequities in these populations, the economic burden of racial and ethnic disparity was estimated to be between $421–$451 billion in 2018.2

According to the American Cancer Society, “racial disparities in cancer diagnosis and treatment are continuously chronicled in the scientific literature. Accumulating evidence shows that the overtly racist historical practice of mortgage lending discrimination known as redlining is associated with later stage diagnosis, less likelihood of receiving recommended treatment, and higher cancer mortality.”

Seventy Percent of Colon Cancers Are Preventable

Despite the overarching trend that colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, “70 percent of colon cancers are preventable,” according to Dr. Anton Bilchik.

Dr. Anton Bilchik is the Chief of General Surgery, VP of Medical Staffing at Saint John’s Health Center, and Director of the Gastrointestinal & Hepatobiliary research program at Saint John’s Cancer Institute. He is a professor of surgical oncology and instructs our fellows in our fellowship program on best-in-care surgical practices.

Dr. Anton Bilchik co-leads the DREAM Team’s Stand-Up To Cancer (SU2C) initiative to end inequities in our African and Native populations. The team works with community leaders to spread awareness of healthier lifestyles and affordable screenings such as, the Cologuard test. Cologuard is an at-home stool-based test you can request from your primary-care provider which is 95 percent accurate in detecting cancer. However, false positives are known to happen.

This DREAM Team will stay by the side of those diagnosed with colorectal cancer – from the first day of diagnosis to long into survivorship.

Dr. Anton Bilchik Explains Alarming Colon Cancer Trends, Risk Factors, and Prevention.

Dr. Anton Bilchik discusses colorectal cancer outside Saint John’s Health Center, March 2024

Five Ways to Reduce your Risk of Colorectal Cancer

  1. Start by looking into your family’s history. The American Cancer Society’s new report notes that up to a third of people who are diagnosed with colorectal cancer before the age of 50 have a genetic link to the disease.
  2. Be aware of symptoms that may feel subtle at first. The signs for colorectal cancer may be hard to pin down initially. If you’re dealing with digestive symptoms and they seem to drag on, or they feel off, it’s imperative to speak up and flag them with your doctor.
  3. If you smoke or vape, make a plan to quit. Quitting smoking lowers your risk of developing at least 12 different kinds of cancers, including colorectal cancer.
  4. Add more nutritious foods to your plate. Loading up on colorful fruits and vegetables may potentially lower your risk of colorectal cancer.
  5. Find a form of movement you can keep up with. A wealth of research has shown that exercise can significantly reduce colorectal cancer risk. Staying active wards off inflammation.

    Further readings for colon cancer and cancer prevention:

    1. What is Cancer Prevention? This blog discusses inflammation, the microbiome in the gut, the importance of exercise, and screenings.
    2. What is Digestive Health? This blog outlines the care approach at the Digestive Health Institute at Providence, Saint John’s Health Center. It explores Cologuard testing, colonoscopies, and other screening methods for colon cancer. Experts in gastroenterology and gastrointestinal & hepatobiliary diseases are featured.

    What are our patients saying about screenings and cancer?

    Patients of Saint John’s Health Center discuss the importance of screenings

    Saint John’s Cancer Institute’s Approach to Cancer Care Innovation

    Clinical trials have been at the forefront of what is now considered best practice for cancer cure. Continued research in the fields of colon and rectal cancers is imperative for improved patient outcomes. These longitudinal clinical trials and studies have led to multidisciplinary treatment options and improved care for colorectal cancer patients.

    Clinical trials offered at Saint John’s Cancer Institute consistently push the fields of oncology into the future. One innovation is establishing patient-centered trials, in which we do not have to wait years to aggregate all the data and allows us to see outcomes in real time.

    Saint John’s Hospital and Saint John’s Cancer Institute form a niche enclave of dedicated scientists, researchers, and physicians, working together at the forefront to create future developments in cancer care and treatment.

    For over two decades, Dr. Anton Bilchik has dedicated himself to advancing cancer research and treatment, training the next generation of surgical oncologists, and working alongside his peers.

    If you would like to donate to cancer research, please click here, and thank you.

    Read about the global burden, incidence, and risk factors of colon cancer and other cancers here. 


    1. Cancer Facts & Figures 2024
    2. Cancer statistics, 2024 – Siegel – 2024 – CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians – Wiley Online Library
    3. Global Burden of Cancer

About the Author

Eleanor Zeri