One of the first questions that most patients ask their doctor or ask themselves is “How long do I have?” Don’t be surprised if your doctor doesn’t give you a firm answer. Survival rates for colorectal cancer are remarkably individual, even when it has spread and a patient is at an advanced stage of cancer.

Statistical survival rates for colorectal cancer help in developing new treatments for cancer and determining their effectiveness. But, survival predictions for individuals are not always reliable, and they can significantly add to your worry. Your doctor may be able to provide you with statistics for people with diagnoses similar to yours, but your case is your own!

Terms for Colorectal Survival Rates

Doctors may use different terms in discussing your statistical chances for colon cancer survival and rectal cancer survival.

  • Five-Year Overall Survival: the percentage of patients alive after five years, including deaths from cancer and other illnesses
  • Five-Year Relative Survival: the percentage of patients alive after five years, not including deaths from other illnesses
  • Median Overall Survival: the time at which 50 percent of patients are still alive after a diagnosis or particular treatment
  • Median Disease-Free Survival: the time at which 50 percent of patients are still alive without evidence of tumor recurrence
  • Progression-Free Survival: the time it takes from the start of a treatment for the cancer to grow or spread
  • Recurrence: a return of cancer after it has been initially treated. For example, a person with stage II disease whose cancer comes back after treatment is said to have had a ‘recurrence.’

Determining the Survival Rate for Colorectal Cancer

Doctors give survival statistics based on historical information, so the numbers do not reflect the current standards of care or recent improvements in chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy. Improvement of the treatments available today recently increased the relative survival for people diagnosed at stage III, as well as the length of time that people with metastatic cancer will live.

According to SEER data (2008-2014), the five-year survival rate is 64.5 percent for all colorectal cancers. However, that percentage is nearly 90 percent among those diagnosed with localized (early stage) disease. As of 2015, there are an estimated 1,332,085 people living with colon or rectal cancer in the United States.

For more information, read SEER data and download a free copy of Your Guide in the Fight for colon cancer and rectal cancer.