The bowel is part of the digestive system. It is made up of the small bowel and the large bowel. The large bowel is made up of the colon and rectum.
Cancer that affects the large bowel is typically called bowel cancer. You may also hear it being called colorectal cancer. This means cancer in the colon or rectum.
Cancer that affects the anus is called anal cancer. Read more about anal cancer.
If you’re not sure what type of cancer you have, please speak to your healthcare team.
What is cancer?
In your body, cells 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 polyps. Polyps are non-cancerous growths that might develop into cancer. Not all polyps develop into cancer. If your doctor finds any polyps, they can remove them to lower the risk of bowel cancer.
Cancer cells may stay in the bowel or they might spread to other parts of the body, such as 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. Almost 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK.
Around 268,000 people living in the UK today have been diagnosed with bowel cancer.
More than nine out of ten new cases (94%) are diagnosed in people over the age of 50. But bowel cancer can affect anyone of any age. More than 2,600 new cases are diagnosed in people under the age of 50 every year.
1 in 15 men and 1 in 18 women will be diagnosed with bowel cancer during their lifetime.
How many people survive bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early. Nearly everyone survives bowel cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage. However this drops significantly as the disease develops. Early diagnosis really does save lives.
More than 16,800 people die from bowel cancer in the UK every year. It is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK. But the number of people dying of bowel cancer has been falling since the 1970s. This may be due to earlier diagnosis, better treatment options and the start of the national bowel cancer screening programme.
Updated July 2023