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Colon and Rectal Cancer Research Highlights

For more than 70 years, the American Cancer Society has been helping find answers to critical questions about colon and rectal cancer (often referred to as colorectal cancer or simply colon cancer) – what causes it; how can it be prevented, detected, and treated successfully; and how patients’ quality of life can be improved. These efforts have contributed to substantial decreases in colon and rectal cancer mortality over the past two decades. Despite this progress, colorectal cancer is still the third-deadliest cancer in the U.S. The American Cancer Society is committed to saving more lives from this disease.

From American Cancer Society Researchers

The American Cancer Society employs a staff of full-time researchers who relentlessly pursue the answers that help us understand how to prevent, detect, and treat cancer, including colorectal cancer. They investigate associations between lifestyle and colon/rectal cancer using data from the ongoing Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II), which the Society began in 1982. They are also conducting a new multi-year cancer prevention study, CPS-III.

In addition, Society epidemiologists Rebecca Siegel, MPH, and Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, PhD, every three years publish Colorectal Cancer Facts & Figures, which provides detailed analyses of colon and rectal cancer incidence and mortality trends in the U.S., as well as the latest information on risk factors, early detection, treatment, and current research. Highlights from Colorectal Cancer Facts & Figures 2014-2016 include:

  • In both men and women, colon/rectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death.
  • Only 59% of people aged 50 or older, for whom screening is recommended, report being consistent with colorectal cancer screening guidelines.
  • Significant progress in the prevention and early detection of colorectal cancer (CRC) is possible by increasing access to and use of colorectal cancer screening tests.   


Siegel and Jemal also coauthored a 2015 study that identified 3 U.S. "hotspots" with increased rates of colorectal cancer death: the lower Mississippi delta, west central Appalachia, and eastern Virginia/North Carolina, These findings suggest the 3 hotspots warrant “prioritized screening intervention,” the authors wrote in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention.

In another 2015 study, several Society researchers (including Siegel and Jemal) estimated that at least 24.4 million people in the U.S. would need colorectal cancer screening to achieve “80% by 2018” – a goal for CRC screening prevalence set by the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable, “To reach this goal, improving facilitators of CRC screening, including physician recommendation and patient awareness, is needed,” the authors wrote in the journal Cancer.

Read an interview with American Cancer Society researchers with insights on how to reduce colon cancer disparities in the U.S.

American Cancer Society-Funded Research and Training Grants*

The Society supports an Extramural Grants program that funds individual investigators engaged in cancer research or training at medical schools, universities, research institutes, and hospitals throughout the U.S. Following rigorous and independent peer review, the most innovative research projects are selected for support.

Total ACS grants currently in effect addressing colorectal cancer: 97
Total ACS grant funding currently committed to colorectal cancer: $29,532,800

The following are just a few of the our current colorectal cancer investigators.

Jennifer WeissJennifer Weiss, MD, at the University of Wisconsin, is conducting research to inform the creation of a toolkit that will help healthcare systems nationwide increase their colorectal cancer screening rates.




Connie ArnoldConnie Arnold, PhD, at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, is testing different health literacy interventions to increase colorectal cancer screening among low-income and underinsured populations.




close up of test tubes Lisa Tussing-Humphreys, PhD, at the University of Illinois, is exploring why obesity increases the risk of colorectal cancer. Obesity, especially in women, is associated with changes to the way the body metabolizes iron, which in turn leads to inflammation in the colon. To learn whether this chain of events is a reason that obesity increases colorectal cancer risk, she is investigating the effect of two diets designed to reduce intestinal iron exposure versus a control diet in obese women.



Allred Clinton Clinton Allred, PhD, at Texas A&M University, is researching the role of estrogen in the suppression of colon tumor formation. Allred is also studying dietary compounds that act like estrogen, called phytoestrogens, which may lead to the development of recommendations that will enable patients to alter their diet in an effort to reduce risk of colon cancer.



Other promising Society-funded research includes efforts to create a colon cancer vaccine and to better understand the role of gut bacteria in colon health. Read more colon cancer research news from the American Cancer Society.

*Information current as of March 1, 2016.

Other Ways ACS Fights Colorectal Cancer

In addition to conducting and funding colorectal cancer research, the American Cancer Society helps fight colorectal cancer through education, support services, and advocacy. Explore how the Society helps>