Temporal trends in age- and stage-specific incidence of colorectal adenocarcinomas in Germany


BACKGROUND: A national colorectal cancer (CRC) screening programme was launched in 2002 in Germany. A comprehensive evaluation of the programme effectiveness using real-world data is still lacking. In addition, there are regional reports on increasing colorectal cancer incidence in younger populations. Therefore, we aimed to describe and compare the overall, age- and stage-specific incidence trends for colorectal, colon and rectal cancer.

METHODS: We used data from seven population-based cancer registries in Germany. We report absolute and relative changes in incidence rates between the early screening phase (2003-2005) and the most recent time period available (2015-2017), as well as annual percent changes. We analysed incidences according to tumour site (colorectum, colon, and rectum) and to six age groups (young adults: 15-34, 35-39, 40-49, screening-entitled/older adults: 50-54, 55-69 and 70 + years old).

RESULTS: In our sample of 271,011 colorectal adenocarcinomas, about two-thirds were located in the colon and 95% of them occurred in the age group 50+ (50-54: 5%, 55-69: 32.8%, 70+: 57.2%). For the time period 2003-2005 the age-specific incidence rates of individuals in the age group 55-69 were about 76/100,00 for colon and 54/100,000 for rectal cancer (age group 70 + colon: 179/100,000; rectum: 84/100,000). The incidence rates in young adults were less than 13% of that of individuals in the age group 55-69 (< 5% of individuals aged 70+; <33% of individuals aged 50-54). Over time, incidence decreased in individuals at the age of 55+, for all subsites considered as well as for early and late stage cancers (with few exceptions), while incidence of young adult CRC (both early and late stage) increased steepest in the youngest age groups. For late stage rectal cancer, a shift was observed in all age groups from UICC stage IV to stage III being the most frequent stage.

CONCLUSIONS: Six years after the introduction of the national colonoscopy screening program, late stage CRC incidence began to decline substantially in the screening-eligible age groups (55-69, 70+). It is likely that this decline and the increase in early stage CRC observed in younger age groups can be attributed to the program. Long lasting public awareness campaigns for CRC screening might have led to opportunistic screening in younger adults. Whether these benefits outweigh the possible harm of screening in younger age groups remains unclear.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1180
JournalBMC Cancer
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)1180
Publication statusPublished - 01.12.2023

Research Areas and Centers

  • Research Area: Center for Population Medicine and Public Health (ZBV)

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