A review of sex-related differences in colorectal cancer incidence, screening uptake, routes to diagnosis, cancer stage and survival in the UK

Alan White (Lead / Corresponding author), Lucy Ironmonger, Robert J. C. Steele, Nick Ormiston-Smith, Carina Crawford, Amanda Seims

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Background: Colorectal cancer (CRC) is an illness strongly influenced by sex and gender, with mortality rates in males significantly higher than females. There is still a dearth of understanding on where sex differences exist along the pathway from presentation to survival. The aim of this review is to identify where actions are needed to improve outcomes for both sexes, and to narrow the gap for CRC.

Methods: A cross-sectional review of national data was undertaken to identify sex differences in incidence, screening uptake, route to diagnosis, cancer stage at diagnosis and survival, and their influence in the sex differences in mortality.

Results: Overall incidence is higher in men, with an earlier age distribution, however, important sex differences exist in anatomical site. There were relatively small differences in screening uptake, route to diagnosis, cancer staging at diagnosis and survival. Screening uptake is higher in women under 69 years. Women are more likely to present as emergency cases, with more men diagnosed through screening and two-week-wait. No sex differences are seen in diagnosis for more advanced disease. Overall, age-standardised 5-year survival is similar between the sexes.

Conclusions: As there are minimal sex differences in the data from routes to diagnosis to survival, the higher mortality of colorectal cancer in men appears to be a result of exogenous and/or endogenous factors pre-diagnosis that lead to higher incidence rates. There are however, sex and gender differences that suggest more targeted interventions may facilitate prevention and earlier diagnosis in both men and women.

Original languageEnglish
Article number906
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Cancer
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sep 2018



  • Colorectal Cancer
  • Premature death, screening
  • Routes to diagnosis
  • Sex/gender difference
  • Staging, survival

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