How common is rectal cancer and what are the most common types?

Updated: Apr 06, 2021
  • Author: Burt Cagir, MD, FACS; Chief Editor: N Joseph Espat, MD, MS, FACS  more...
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Colon and rectal cancer incidence was negligible before 1900. The incidence of colorectal cancer rose dramatically following economic development and industrialization. Currently, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the third leading cause of cancer deaths in both males and females in the United States. [2]

Adenocarcinomas comprise the vast majority (98%) of colon and rectal cancers. Other rare rectal cancers, including carcinoid (0.4%), lymphoma (1.3%), and sarcoma (0.3%), are not discussed in this article. Squamous cell carcinomas may develop in the transition area from the rectum to the anal verge and are considered anal carcinomas. Very rare cases of squamous cell carcinoma of the rectum have been reported. [3, 4]

Approximately 20% of colorectal cancers develop in the cecum, another 20% in the rectum, and an additional 10% in the rectosigmoid junction. Approximately 25% of colon cancers develop in the sigmoid colon. [3]

The incidence and epidemiology, etiology, pathogenesis, and screening recommendations are common to both colon cancer and rectal cancer. These areas are addressed together.

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