Colorectal cancer: key points

  • In Scotland, colorectal cancer was the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and women in 2015. It was also the third most common cause of death from cancer in both men and women in 2015.
  • In 2015, 1,975 men and 1,696 women were diagnosed with colorectal cancer in Scotland.
  • Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, colorectal cancer accounts for 13.0% of all cancers diagnosed in men, and 10.4% of all cancers diagnosed in women.
  • Based on current rates of disease, an estimated 1 in 16 men, and 1 in 20 women develop colorectal cancer during their lifetime.
  • Over the last ten years, the age-standardised mortality rate of colorectal cancer decreased by an estimated 20.9%  in men, and 8.5%  in women.
  • The incidence of colorectal cancer is higher in Scotland than England. The incidence rates for Scotland fall within the mid-upper range of rates for other countries that have data available for comparison. 
  • The main risk factors for colorectal cancer are dietary (vegetables and fibre are probably protective, red meat may increase risk), obesity, lack of physical activity, genetic factors, and (probably) long-term smoking.
  • Survival from colorectal cancer has increased substantially over the last 30 years. For both men and women, the relative survival at five years increased from 42.3% for patients diagnosed during 1987-91 to 60.4% for those diagnosed during 2007-2011.
  • Incidence and Mortality from colorectal cancer is significantly higher among people living in areas of socioeconomic deprivation.
  • Although there is no recent evidence of any health boards in Scotland having worse survival from colorectal cancer than the average for Scotland, previous audits and international comparisons have suggested possible scope for improving outcomes from colorectal cancer in Scotland. 


Key statistics:

  Males Females
Number of cases diagnosed in 2015 1,975 1,696
Prevalence at 31st Dec 2015 (cases / 100,000 pop)1 530.6 431.2
Number of deaths in 2015 844 721
% surviving 5 years after diagnosis2 61.3% 59.2%
Lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer (from birth) 6.4% 5.0%
Lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer (from age 54) 6.2% 4.7%

1)  Number of colorectal cancer survivors at 31 Dec 2015 who had been diagnosed in the previous 20 years per 100,000 population.
2) Five year relative survival for patients diagnosed during the period 2007-2011 (not standardised).

Section updates:

  • The last major update of this section was completed in September 2017.  
  • The next major update is due to be carried out by end June 2018.