Global bowel cancer rates on the rise

15. 06. 2009 | Cancer Research UK

The incidence of bowel cancer is increasing in many countries around the world, according to a new study. The study's authors believe the rise is due to the uptake of so-called 'western' diets and lifestyles - such as high red meat consumption and low levels of exercise.

Global bowel cancer rates on the rise

Image credit:

Scientists at the American Cancer Society reviewed data from 51 cancer registries around the world using databases created by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in order to analyse rates of bowel cancer from 1983 to 1987 through to 1998 to 2002 [1].

They found that bowel cancer incidence rates statistically significantly increased for both men and women in 27 of the 51 cancer registries, although the increases were more prominent among men.

Of particular note were Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic in the EU, and Japan, Kuwait and Israel in Asia. In Slovenia bowel cancer incidence increased by 70 per cent among men and by 28 per cent among women; in Miyagi in Japan rates in men and women rose by 92 per cent and 47 per cent respectively.

The researchers, whose findings are published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, also found that there were substantial variations in bowel cancer incidence between different regional and ethnic groups in some countries, including Japan, Israel and Singapore.

The only country where bowel cancer rates statistically significantly declined in both sexes during the study period was the US, but the US had a very high rate of bowel cancer to start with.

In contrast, economically transitioning countries such as eastern European nations, most parts of Asia and some South American countries saw large rises in bowel cancer rates.

The study authors believe that this may reflect the increasing adoption of western lifestyles and behaviours in these countries. For instance, people are increasingly choosing to lead sedentary lifestyles, drink more alcohol regularly, and eat large quantities of red and processed meats - all known risk factors for the disease.

Writing in an accompanying editorial, Asad Umar and Peter Greenwald, from the Division of Cancer Prevention at the National Cancer Institute, described the growing rates of bowel cancer as "alarming".

They warned: "This increase points toward a failed early detection and prevention strategy as well as failure to address lifestyle and dietary challenges of urbanisation that affect most of the globe."

Henry Scowcroft, science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said the findings highlighted how bowel cancer rates were driven by lifestyle.

"We know from sound scientific analysis that bowel cancer is more common amongst people who drink heavily, do less exercise, are overweight or obese, and who eat poor diets that contain high amounts of red and processed meat and low amounts of fibre.

"Although we are now seeing the roll-out of the bowel cancer screening programme around the UK, it's also important for people to look after themselves by leading a healthy lifestyle if we are to reduce bowel cancer rates."


  1. Center M, Jemal A, Ward E. International trends in colorectal cancer incidence rates. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 2009. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-09-0090

Keywords: bowel cancer, incidence