One night to walk 21km for cancer – 4 December | Last chance!

Bowel cancer factsheet


Background on bowel cancer

Excellent information on bowel cancer is available from Cancer Council Victoria at:
https://www.cancervic.org.au/cancer-information/types-of-cancer

Here you will find information about the disease, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. Cancer Council Victoria also offers cancer support services for Victorians affected by cancer. You can find this information at:
https://www.cancervic.org.au/get-support/cancer-services-guide or phone 13 11 20.

What is bowel cancer?

The statistics provided in this report include patients diagnosed with cancer of the colon and rectum, including the rectosigmoid. Collectively, these cancers are referred to as bowel cancer or colorectal cancer.

How common is bowel cancer?

In 2019, 3815 Victorians were diagnosed with bowel cancer. Of these, there were 2091 males and 1724 females, representing 54.8% and 45.2% of the total Victorian bowel cancer diagnoses, respectively. The median age at diagnosis of bowel cancer is 69 years in males and 72 in females (Figure 1 & 2). Accounting for 10.6% of all cancers diagnosed and 11.1% of all cancer-related deaths in 2019, bowel cancer was the 3rd most commonly diagnosed cancer and the 2nd most common cause of cancer-related deaths in Victoria.


Figure 1: Distribution of bowel cancer incidence in 2019, by sex within age groups

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2021)


Figure 2: Distribution of bowel cancer incidence in 2019 compared to the distribution of the Victorian population in 2019, by 5-year age brackets

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2021)

Bowel cancer morphology

Figure 4 provides a summary of the different types of cells (morphology) which have caused bowel cancer. Most bowel tumours, 82.1%, present as Adenocarcinoma tumours.


Figure 4: Distribution of bowel cancer cancer morphologies between 2010-2019

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2021)

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: Distribution of bowel cancer incidence in 2019, by location of residence in Victoria

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2021)

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 2015 to 2019. The highest age standardised incidence rate for bowel cancer was 34 for males born in the Other Europe region and the lowest rate of 18.6 was observed in males born in the Southern and Central Asia region. The highest age standardised incidence rate for bowel cancer was 25.2 for females born in the Australia and New Zealand region and lowest rate of 12.4 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 Australia compared to other countries for the period 2015 - 2019, by sex

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2021)


Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2021)



Bowel cancer distribution by stage at diagnosis

Figure 7 shows distribution of bowel cancer by stage of disease at diagnosis in 2019. In males, Stage 1 accounted for the largest proportion (23.3%) of new diagnoses and Stage 4 for the lowest proportion (16.5%) of new bowel cancer diagnoses. In females, Stage unknown accounted for the largest proportion (25.1%) of new diagnoses and Stage 4 accounted for the lowest proportion (16%) of new bowel cancer diagnoses.


Figure 7: Bowel cancer distribution by sex in 2019

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2021)


Bowel cancer five-year relative survival

Figure 8 demonstrates that five-year relative survival has increased for bowel cancer between 1989-1993 and 2014-2018 from 51% to 70%.

Figure 8: Trend in five year relative survival following diagnosis of bowel cancer in five year brackets, from the period 1989-1993 to 2014-2018

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2021)

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