Colorectal Cancer Survival Rates

One of the first questions many patients ask after receiving a colon or rectal cancer diagnosis is, “How long will I live?” Don’t be surprised if your doctor won’t give you a firm answer. Regardless of survival rates, you are unique.

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As a patient, you are a unique case. Whether your cancer is stage I or IV, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. To address questions about your prognosis (the predicted course of your disease), your doctor may turn to survival statistics.

Survival rates of colorectal cancer are calculations based on other patients with a similar diagnosis to you. You must remember your case is your own. Statistics alone will not determine your outcomes. But, you can use them to make decisions about your treatment plan.

Five-Year Relative Survival Rates

Most commonly, survival statistics are explained in terms of relative survival, meaning colorectal cancer is the cause of death for the patient. Overall survival, or OS, is calculated accommodating for any cause of the patient’s death.

For all colorectal cancer patients, regardless of cancer stage:

  • 64.4% is the five-year relative survival rate of colon cancer. This means that for every 100 people diagnosed with colon cancer, 64 of them are expected to be alive five years after diagnosis.
  • 67% is the five-year relative survival rate of rectal cancer. 

Thanks to increased screening and advanced treatment options, relative survival rates of colorectal cancer are on the rise. In 1975, the rate was only 50%.  This is why funding promising, high-impact research endeavors is essential to Fight CRC’s mission.

Why Five Years?

Cancer statistics commonly use a five-year interval when it comes to sharing relative survival rates. For colorectal cancer (like many other cancers) the risk of recurrence, which means cancer returns after a period of being gone, significantly decreases once a patient has been disease-free for at least five years. 

This doesn’t mean the cancer can’t or won’t return, but the probability goes way down. It’s important to discuss the chances of recurrence with your doctor.

Colorectal Cancer Survival Rates by Stage

Relative survival rates will vary dramatically based on cancer stage. Current statistics are calculated by the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program.

Localized cancer: Stages I and II

This means that cancer cells have only been found in the colon or rectum, where the cancer was initially discovered. Localized colorectal cancer is the most curable and can be caught with colorectal cancer screening. This often pertains to stage I and stage II colon or rectal cancers.

  • 39% of all colorectal cancer cases are localized
  • 89.9% five-year relative survival rate

Regional Cancer: Stage III

Regional colorectal cancer means that cancer cells were also found in the lymph nodes surrounding the tumor or tissues. This most often pertains to stage III.

  • 35% of all colorectal cancer cases are regional
  • 71.3% five-year relative survival rate

Distant Cancer: Stage IV

Metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC) is distant cancer. This means the cancer is not just in the colon or rectum. These statistics apply to patients with metastases to the liver, lungs, or other organs. Metastatic colorectal cancer is also referred to as stage IV. 

  • 22% of all colorectal cancer cases are distant
  • 14.2% five-year relative survival rate

Survival Rates by Age

Studies have shown that age may play a factor in a metastatic patient’s prognosis.

“Younger and older age are associated with poorer Overall Survival and Progression-Free Survival among treated patients with mCRC. Younger and older patients may represent higher-risk populations, and additional studies are warranted.”

Journal of Clinical Oncology, “Association of Age With Survival in Patients With Metastatic Colorectal Cancer: Analysis From the ARCAD Clinical Trials Program” (2014)

Fight CRC continues to play an active role in advancing early-onset colorectal cancer research by funding, publishing, and participating in studies.c

How Survival Rates are Calculated

There is a lot of data on cancer patients and the amount of information continues to grow. Research groups take this data and run calculations based on different populations and trends.

Survival statistics look at numbers. These numbers may help guide your treatment and care, but are not meant to predict whether you will survive or not.

For the latest statistics on colorectal cancer, visit:

Survival Rates Without Treatment

It’s not uncommon to wonder what your life expectancy will be if you don’t receive treatment. The five-year relative survival rates are not indicative of whether or not patients received treatments, but they are influenced by it.

It’s important to know that treatments available today recently increased the relative survival rate for people diagnosed with stage III colorectal cancer. Also, current treatments lengthened the amount of time that some people with stage IV, (metastatic colorectal cancer) live.

The relative survival rate is calculated by comparing diagnoses and deaths amongst colorectal cancer patients. Other statistics are influenced by whether or not patients received treatment.

It’s important to review these rates with your doctor as you consider treatment options. The statistics alone cannot determine what you should do, but they may aid in your treatment conversation.

  • Disease-Free Survival: percentage of people who have no evidence of disease (NED) following colorectal cancer treatment.
  • Median Disease-Free Survival: the time at which 50% of patients are still alive without evidence of tumor recurrence. 
  • Progression-Free Survival: the amount of time a patient’s cancer does not grow or get worse after treatment.

Cancer Treatment Successes

It can be difficult to face numbers and percentages as you research colorectal cancer. But please remember, you are NOT a statistic. You are a unique case!

There are many long-term, stage IV survivors! There are a lot of patients who are not typical of survival statistics.

As you look for ways to fight colorectal cancer, we hope you’ll become a part of our community of relentless champions. Join our advocates’ group on Facebook to meet others and learn how to use your voice. Get involved in colorectal cancer research. Our community is full of patients who’ve been diagnosed at every stage, from stage I to stage IV.  Don’t forget to read stories of hope in addition to colorectal cancer survival statistics.

Newly Diagnosed? Start Here.

For more information about how survival rates of colorectal cancer can influence your treatment plan, download a free copy of Your Guide in the Fight for colon cancer and rectal cancer.

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