Every year, more than 945000 people develop colorectal cancer worldwide, and around 492000 patients die. This form of cancer develops sporadically, in the setting of hereditary cancer syndromes, or on the basis of inflammatory bowel diseases. Screening and prevention programmes are available for all these causes and should be more widely publicised. The adenoma-carcinoma sequence is the basis for development of colorectal cancer, and the underlying molecular changes have largely been identified. Prognosis depends on factors related to the patient, treatment, and tumour, and the expertise of the treatment team is one of the major determinants of outcome. New information on the molecular basis of this cancer have led to the development of targeted therapeutic options, which are being tested in clinical trials. Further clinical progress will largely depend on the broader implementation of multidisciplinary treatment strategies following the principles of evidence-based medicine.