Asia's growing burden of an ageing population and colorectal cancer

Recent cancer surveillance data shows that in the past decade, Asian countries such as China and Japan have experienced an increase in new cases of colorectal cancer (CRC). GlobalData’s CRC forecast shows that the increase in the newly diagnosed cases in urban China and Japan will continue to 2025 (figure 1).

CRC is the most common gastrointestinal tumor. The risk of developing CRC increases with age. According to the CDC, more than 90% of patients diagnosed with CRC are older than 50. In the past, CRC has been one of the most common cancers in western populations.

Urban China is expected to see an increase in the number of incident cases at annual growth rate of about five percent. Japan will also see an increase in incident cases, but at a lower annual growth rate (1.4 percent). In the 1990’s, incidence of CRC increased in China and Japan. Much of the rising burden of cancer in Asian countries was due to population growth and ageing, as well as sociodemographic changes. Other factors that influenced the increase of CRC incidence were unhealthy diets rich in fat and processed meats, and less physical activity—behaviors that became more prevalent in Asian populations as they transitioned to more developed economies.

Although GlobalData epidemiologists don’t forecast an increase in incidence rates in the next ten years, the number of incident cases of CRC is expected to increase. Ageing, increased life expectancy, and population growth will be the major drivers for the increase in new cases of CRC. Ageing and increased life expectancy will also affect treatment options, since older patients are more likely to present with additional diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, and diabetes.

Awareness of CRC and as well as an increase in the proportion of the population that participates in CRC screening programs will be important considerations when developing interventions that can decrease the number incident cases. If CRC is diagnosed at an early stage, the five-year survival rate markedly increases to 90 percent compared with a survival rate of 53 percent at stage III and 11 percent at stage IV. Primary detection through colonoscopies is an effective tool for CRC prevention, and can be a solution to the expected increase of CRC cases in urban China and Japan.