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Bowel Cancer Statistics


What is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer is cancer in any part of the large bowel, including the colon, rectum and rectosigmoid. It is sometimes known as colorectal cancer and might also be called colon or rectal cancer, depending on where it starts in the bowel.

You can access further information about bowel cancer, including risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment from Cancer Council Victoria. You can also call our trusted cancer nurses on 13 11 20 for support and to learn about our range of services for people affected by cancer.

The Victorian Cancer Registry also operates an interactive web portal, Data Explorer, which provides more trends and statistics than published here.

How common is bowel cancer?

In 2021, 3713 Victorians were diagnosed with bowel cancer. Of these, there were 2009 males and 1704 females, representing 54.1% and 45.9% of the total Victorian bowel cancer diagnoses, respectively. Currently, bowel cancer is diagnosed at a rate of 33.8 per 100,000 males and 25.3 per 100,000 females. The median age at diagnosis of bowel cancer is 69 years in males and 72 in females (Figure 1 & 2). Accounting for 10% of all cancers diagnosed and 11.1% of all cancer-related deaths in 2021, bowel cancer was the 3rd most commonly diagnosed cancer and the 2nd most common cause of cancer-related deaths in Victoria in 2021.


Figure 1: Distribution of bowel cancer incidence in 2021, by sex within age groups

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2023)


Figure 2: Distribution of bowel cancer incidence in 2021, compared to the distribution of the Victorian population in 2021, by 5-year age brackets

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2023)

Bowel cancer morphology

Figure 4 provides a summary of the different types of cells (morphology) which have caused bowel cancer among all cases. Most bowel cancer tumours, 81.2%, present as Adenocarcinoma tumours.


Figure 4: Distribution of bowel cancer morphologies between 2012-2021

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2023)


Geographical variance in bowel cancer by local government area

Figure 5 demonstrates variation in age-standardised incidence rates of bowel cancer, by local government areas. Darker shading indicates areas with higher rates of bowel cancer.


Figure 5: Variation in the incidence of bowel cancer for the period 2017-2021, by location of residence in Victoria

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2023)


Bowel cancer in people born overseas

Figure 6 shows the age standardised incidence rates of bowel cancer in Australian-born Victorians compared to other major migrant groups, over the five-year period 2017 to 2021. The highest age standardised incidence rate for bowel cancer was 38.8 for males born in the Southern Europe region and the lowest rate of 21 was observed in males born in the Southern and Central Asia region. The highest age standardised incidence rate for bowel cancer was 28.4 for females born in the Australia and New Zealand region and lowest rate of 16.3 was observed in females born in the Southern and Central Asia region.


Figure 6: Age standardised incidence rates and 95% confidence intervals for bowel cancer in Victorians born in Australia compared to Victorians born in other countries for the period 2017-2021, by sex

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2023)


Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2023)



Bowel cancer distribution by stage at diagnosis

Figure 7 shows distribution of bowel cancer by stage of disease at diagnosis in 2021. In males, Stage unknown accounted for the largest proportion (24.5%) of new diagnoses and Stage 4 for the lowest proportion (16%) of new bowel cancer diagnoses. In females, Stage unknown accounted for the largest proportion (23.9%) of new diagnoses and Stage 4 accounted for the lowest proportion (16.3%) of new bowel cancer diagnoses.


Figure 7: Bowel cancer distribution by stage at diagnosis in 2021, by sex

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2023)


Bowel cancer five-year relative survival

Figure 8 shows the change in 5-year survival for bowel cancer, and the 5-year survival trend for all cancers over the same time period. It demonstrates that five-year relative survival has increased for bowel cancer between 1986-1990 and 2016-2020 from 49% to 71%.

Figure 8: Trend in five year relative survival following diagnosis of bowel cancer in five year brackets, from the period 1986-1990 to 2016-2020

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2023)

For further information relating to stage at diagnosis for bowel cancer, please refer to:
https://www.cancervic.org.au/cancer-information/types-of-cancer/bowel_cancer/diagnosing_bowel_cancer.html

This webpage was last updated in February 2023

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