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J Natl Cancer Inst. 1994 Jul 6;86(13):997-1006.

Temporal patterns in colorectal cancer incidence, survival, and mortality from 1950 through 1990.

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Early Detection Branch, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892.



Colorectal cancer mortality rates among U.S. white males remained relatively constant from 1950 through 1984 but declined sharply from 1985 through 1990. Those for U.S. white females decreased consistently from 1950 through 1984, with an acceleration of the decline from 1985 through 1990.


A study was planned to investigate patterns in incidence, survival, and mortality rates over time in order to examine possible reasons for the gender difference in mortality trends and for the decrease in the slope of the mortality trends for both males and females in the late 1980s.


Incidence and survival data from the Connecticut Cancer Registry were examined to investigate the gender differences in mortality rates from 1950 through 1984. Incidence and survival data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program were investigated to examine reasons for the abrupt downturn in mortality rates for both white males and white females beginning around 1985.


During the period 1950 through 1984, the colorectal cancer incidence rates in Connecticut increased for males and declined slightly for females. Survival rates were similar for both sexes, increasing on average over 1% per year for both females and males from 1950 through 1984. Examination of SEER data from 1975 through 1990 revealed that for both males and females there were 1) declines in overall incidence and mortality rates beginning in the mid-1980s, 2) steady declines in distant disease incidence rates since 1975, 3) increases in regional disease incidence rates until the early 1980s followed by declines in the late 1980s, and 4) increases in local disease incidence rates until the mid-1980s followed by declines in the late 1980s. Age-period-cohort analyses of mortality rates indicated a statistically significant moderation of colorectal cancer risk with both advancing birth cohorts and recent calendar periods.


The gender differences in colorectal cancer mortality rate trends observed from 1950 through 1984 are due to differences in incidence rate trends between males and females. Declining colorectal mortality rates in the late 1980s for males and females appear to reflect improved early detection. The peaking and subsequent decline of stage-specific incidence rates at later years for successively lower stage indicate sequential stage shifts as cancers are detected increasingly earlier over time. The increased use of sigmoidoscopy and fecal occult blood tests (triggering colonoscopy) appears to have played an important role in reducing colorectal cancer mortality. Improvements in birth cohort trends in risk for colorectal cancer for each sex suggest that lifestyle changes may have also contributed to the steady reductions in colorectal cancer mortality.

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