Press Releases

2005 Releases

The State of Colorectal Cancer in Massachusetts: Despite Decrease, Rates Remain High

For immediate release:  May 23, 2005

(Boston, MA) -- The Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention at the Harvard School of Public Health, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Cancer Registry, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, has released Data Report on Colorectal Cancer in Massachusetts. The report presents statewide data on colorectal cancer incidence, mortality, and screening.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in Massachusetts, and it is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths.

Although colorectal cancer rates have declined in Massachusetts over the past 20 years, the rates in Massachusetts are still higher than the national average.

Colorectal cancer becomes more common as people age. The rates increase significantly after age 50, therefore most guidelines suggest starting to screen for colorectal cancer at age 50, unless someone has particular risk factors, like a family history of colorectal cancer. 

Many people still consider colorectal cancer a man's disease; however, colorectal cancer actually strikes and kills more women than men.
Colorectal cancer affects all ethnic groups in Massachusetts, but the disease is most common among white and black non-Hispanics (as compared to Hispanics and Asians).

The report also emphasizes regular colorectal cancer screening tests as vital to prevention and survival.  Chances of survival are 90 percent when the disease is diagnosed at an early stage, but drops to 10 percent when found at later stages.  Although screening is increasing in Massachusetts, more than half of all colorectal cancer cases in the state are diagnosed at later stages, after the disease has spread outside the colon and rectum. 

Other recommendations for prevention included in the report:  getting a minimum 30 minutes of daily physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, taking a multivitamin with folate, eating calcium-rich foods, and limiting red meat and alcohol intake.  Colorectal cancer screening should be started at age 50 for most people, but individuals with inflammatory bowel disease and those with a family history of colon polyps or colorectal cancer may need to start screening earlier.
"There are many ways to fight colorectal cancer," commented Cynthia Stein, MD, MPH, Associated Director of the Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention who contributed to the report. "We must put our knowledge and tools to work; prevention and early detection save lives."

The data in this report was collected from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS); the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Use Report (SEER); and the Massachusetts Cancer Registry. Drs. Graham Colditz and Cynthia Stein of the Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention both contributed to the report. 

Data Report on Colorectal Cancer in Massachusetts can be accessed online at

For more information contact:
Michelle Samplin-Salgado
Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention

Based at the Harvard School of Public Health, the Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention promotes prevention as the primary approach to controlling cancer and other chronic diseases. Established in 1994, the Center draws on Harvard's strengths in public health and medicine and on the expertise of leading cancer researchers worldwide. The Center conducts and summarizes research into causes of cancer and then translates these findings into priorities for cancer prevention strategies. For more information on the Center visit