Colon Cancer: Survival Rates and Prognosis

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If you have a colon cancer diagnosis, you’re likely to have many questions. What's the likely course of the disease? What are your chances of recovery? The term your doctor will use for this is your prognosis. Getting exact answers is difficult because everyone’s situation is unique. Many factors affect the future of people who have colon cancer.

Colon Cancer Survival Rates

Doctors diagnose more than 135,000 people with colon cancer each year in the United States. The stage of colon cancer at diagnosis affects survival rates. Stages range from 1 (localized) to 4 (advanced). Localized colon cancer means the cancer cells are only in the colon. When it's diagnosed at an early stage, the survival rate is good. About 90% of people diagnosed in the early stages live at least five years.

As colon cancer advances, survival becomes less likely. The five-year survival rate is 71% for those diagnosed when the cancer spreads to the lymph nodes and organs near the colon. The survival rate drops further if the cancer spreads to areas throughout the body. Then, about 13% of people live five years or longer. 

However, other factors can improve this rate. If you have a small number of tumors that spread somewhere else in the body and you have surgery to remove them, your survival rate improves. Keep in mind these statistics don’t cover every scenario. Also, the numbers can change over time as the medical community discovers more effective diagnostic tools and treatments.

Colon Cancer Prognosis

Your prognosis is an explanation of how the disease may affect you and whether it's possible to treat your cancer. Your prognosis is based on:

  • Stage: This is how advanced your cancer is, meaning how far it has spread beyond your colon.

  • Grade: The grade shows how likely it is that the cancer will grow and spread, and how quickly that might happen.

Talking about your prognosis also means talking about possible treatments. Your medical team will explain how effective treatment may be in your case, based on the stage of your cancer and your overall health.
Your prognosis is best if your colon cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, when it is just in the colon. There may be several ways to treat your cancer. These could include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of therapies.

About half of people with colon cancer have surgery to remove the cancer. Even with surgery and other treatments, it’s possible for some cancer cells to remain and for it to grow back later. Research shows that a healthy diet and regular exercise may help reduce your risk.

If you have late-stage cancer and the grade indicates it is growing and spreading quickly, your prognosis may be poor. There may not be many treatments available to stop the cancer. Still, chemotherapy and other treatments may help some people by slowing the cancer and keeping it from spreading further.

Talking With Your Doctor

Talking about your survival chances and prognosis can be frightening. Even so, it's an important conversation to have with your doctor. Discuss what you can do to either cure your cancer or reach a point where it is in remission, which means you have no or reduced signs of cancer by imaging tests and other criteria. Even if treatments can't help you live longer, some may control your symptoms so you can feel comfortable.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Feb 9
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Colorectal Cancer: Statistics. American Society of Clinical Oncology.
  2. Colon Cancer Treatment -- for Health Professionals. National Cancer Institute.
  3. Understanding Cancer Prognosis. National Cancer Institute.