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?” This question is getting at something called survival rates.

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One of the first questions you may 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 the colorectal cancer survival rates, you are unique. Whether your cancer is stage I or IV, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

Your questions along the lines of “How long do I have?” are related to a term called “prognosis” – which is the predicted course of your disease. To provide you with some type of answer, statistics based off data from other patients can be calculated to give you an estimated answer.

Statistics alone will not determine your outcomes. But you can use them to make decisions about your treatment plan.

What are survival rates for colorectal cancer?

When doctors talk about “survival rates,” they’re trying to give you a clearer picture of how serious colorectal cancer can be and how well treatments are working.

Think of survival rates as a way to measure how effective treatments are against colorectal cancer. The rates look at how many people are still alive five years after their cancer diagnosis compared to people who don’t have cancer. It’s like comparing two groups to see how the cancer group is doing.

Why does five years matter?

Reaching five years after your cancer treatment without the cancer coming back is a big deal. It’s like passing a major milestone on a road trip—it means you’ve come a long way, and the chance of the cancer coming back gets a lot lower.

This five-year mark helps doctors and patients feel more hopeful about the future.

What are the current survival rates?

Right now, overall, for every 100 people diagnosed with colorectal cancer, about 65 are expected to be doing well five years later. This number helps us understand the big picture of how people with this type of cancer are doing, thanks to the treatments available.

Rates by stage

Knowing how well people do after a colorectal cancer diagnosis can give you hope and help you understand what to expect. Here’s a simple breakdown of what survival rates mean at different stages of this cancer:

Early Stages: I & II

  • If colorectal cancer is found early, before it has spread, the chances of being well 5 years later are really good—about 91 out of 100 people are still doing well.

Catching the cancer early, when it’s still in one place, makes a huge difference. It’s a strong reminder that timely colorectal cancer screening and talking to your health care team about your signs or symptoms can improve treatment outcomes.

Stage III

  • When the cancer has spread to nearby areas, like lymph nodes, things get a bit tougher, but you have treatment options. About 73 out of 100 people are expected to be doing well after 5 years.

This shows that even though the cancer has spread, many people still do well, thanks to effective treatments.

Stage IV

  • When colorectal cancer has spread beyond the colon or rectum, also known as metastasis, the journey gets much harder. About 16 out of 100 people are doing well after 5 years.

This stage is more challenging, but it’s not without hope. New treatments and clinical trials are being developed all the time.

Unknown Stage

  • Sometimes, doctors can’t tell exactly how far the cancer has spread. In these cases, about 49 out of 100 people are doing well after 5 years.

Every person’s cancer journey is unique. Even when things aren’t clear, treatments can still make a big difference.

Where can I find more statistics?

For the latest and most comprehensive data on colorectal cancer survival rates, the National Cancer Institute’s SEER program and the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Statistics Center are invaluable resources.

What if I choose to NOT get treatment for colorectal cancer?

We understand the whirlwind of emotions and questions that come with a colorectal cancer diagnosis. One of the most pressing concerns you might have is about your life expectancy, especially when considering your treatment options.

We’re here to help you through these complex decisions with compassion and evidence-based information.

Choosing to undergo treatment is an incredibly personal decision. It should be made in close consultation with your health care team, professionals who understand your individual health situation. Also, include your loved ones as they can understand your personal values and life goals. You are an essential partner in your team.

Your insights, preferences, and priorities are critical to crafting a treatment plan that’s right for you… even if the answer is no treatment.

If you’re grappling with uncertainty, don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion. It might help offer new perspectives and reassurance. We encourage this proactive approach, and we are here to support you in finding the best possible care.

How can I find people to process this information with?

In the sea of information about colorectal cancer, it’s vital to anchor yourself in reliable, trusted sources. Treatment can significantly impact survival rates, but the ultimate decision on how to proceed rests in your hands. If you want to talk to others who “get it,” join us at an upcoming Meetup and join our Community of Champions.

Newly Diagnosed?

Were you just diagnosed with colorectal cancer? Get information about your disease, places to find trusted information, and direction on what to do next.

Fight CRC Review

Anjee Davis, MPPA


Last Reviewed: February 19, 2024