Bowel cancer is also called colorectal cancer. It affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum.
The cells in your body normally divide and grow in a controlled way. When cancer develops, the cells change and can grow in an uncontrolled way.
Most bowel cancers develop from pre-cancerous growths, called polyps. But not all polyps develop into cancer. If your doctor finds any polyps, he or she can remove them to prevent them becoming cancerous.
Cancer cells may stay in the bowel or they might spread to other parts of the body, like the liver or lungs.
Facts and figures about bowel cancer
These statistics can only give you a general idea of how bowel cancer affects the UK population. They cannot tell you what will happen to you, as this depends on lots of things, like what treatment you have. Your GP or healthcare team can tell you more about your individual situation and how these statistics may affect you.
How common is bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, after breast, prostate and lung cancers.
Over 41,200 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK.
More than nine out of ten new cases (94%) are diagnosed in people over the age of 50, and nearly six out of ten cases (59%) are diagnosed in people aged 70 or over. But bowel cancer can affect any age. More than 2,500 new cases are diagnosed each year in people under the age of 50.
1 in 14 men (7%) and 1 in 19 women (5%) will be diagnosed with bowel cancer during their lifetime.
How many people are living with bowel cancer?
Around 268,000 people living in the UK today have been diagnosed with bowel cancer.
How many people survive bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer is treatable and curable, especially if it’s diagnosed early.
More than nine out of ten people diagnosed with stage 1 bowel cancer survive five years or more after diagnosis. However this drops significantly as the disease develops.
There is only a small chance that bowel cancer will come back after five years.
Almost 16,000 people die from bowel cancer in the UK every year. It is the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK, behind lung cancer. But the number of people dying of bowel cancer has been falling since the 1970s. This may be due to earlier diagnosis and better treatment.
View this information about bowel cancer in British Sign Language
Cancer Research UK provides statistics and information on the outlook for bowel cancer.
Updated March 2017. Due for review March 2019