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Colon Cancer Survival Rates

Understanding Colon Cancer Survival Rates Can Inform Your Decisions About Care

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Updated December 12, 2011

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Colon Cancer Survival Rates Vary By Stage of Disease

Colon Cancer Survival Rates Vary By Stage of Disease

A.D.A.M.
Colon cancer survival rates hinge on several factors, most specifically stage of disease. Most early-stage colon cancers are treated with the intention of a complete cure. Doctors hope to treat early-stage cancer in a way that ensures the person remains free of that cancer for the rest of his or her life. Later stage colon cancers pose more significant obstacles.

What Is the 5-Year Survival Rate?

You may have heard this term in your doctor's office or from those who have been diagnosed. The 5-year survival rate is the percentage of people diagnosed with cancer who are still alive at least 5 years after their initial diagnosis.

For early stage cancers that are treated with the expectation of a complete cure, the 5-year survival rate is sometimes considered the point at which a person is "out of the woods."

After the 5-year mark, it may become less likely for the cancer to return. Some research suggests that some people need to be followed closely for up to 10 years after diagnosis. This longer follow-up would ensure any cancer recurrences are caught early.

Why Are 5-Year Survival Rates Useful?

Survival rates can be used by doctors as a way to discuss a person's prognosis -- the expected course of disease. For example, when colon cancer is caught early, before it has spread beyond the colon, the prognosis is very good. A complete cure is, of course, the goal.

Should You Look at 5-Year Survival Rates for Your Stage of Colon Cancer?

Some people want to know the survival rates for others who have a colon cancer that is similar to their own. Other people may not want to know survival rates at all. They may feel it is discouraging or overwhelming to know the percentage of people with a cancer similar to theirs who live or die within a certain time frame.

Before you read on, think carefully about whether you want to know the 5-year survival rate for your stage of colon cancer. If the survival numbers are not as high as you had hoped, it may be very stressful for you to know them.

Other people find these numbers to be inspirational, even if the survival rate is low for their stage of colon cancer. Some people feel stronger focusing on "beating the odds." You need to think about what type of person you are. Will these numbers be helpful or stressful to you?

5-Year Survival Rates Are Not the Whole Picture

To come up with 5-year survival rates, health experts need to study people who were treated for their cancer at least 5 years ago. Colon cancer treatments have changed and continue to change very quickly.

Some treatments that are used now, such as targeted therapies, weren't available 5 years ago. Also remember that survival rates can include people who were diagnosed with colon cancer, but who later died of non-cancer-related causes.

This means that the 5-year survival rates likely will look worse than what your 5-year survival rate actually is.

It is important to remember that survival rates are estimates. A 5-year survival rate can never predict what will happen in any one person's case. Other things, such as how the cancer responds to treatment and the genetics of the cancer cells, will affect the chances of survival.

If you decide to read about 5-year survival rates for your stage of colon cancer, be sure to discuss what you learn with your doctor. He or she can help you understand how these numbers might apply to your specific situation.

5-Year Survival Rates by Stage of Colon Cancer

Different systems are used to stage colon cancer. The staging system that is used can affect how the 5-year survival rates look.

The survival rates published by the American Cancer Society (ACS) appear lower than those listed by some other sources. This may be due to the fact that the ACS rates are "observed rates." This means that they include people who died of non-colon cancer-related diseases and conditions after diagnosis, such as heart disease.

5-Year Survival Rates Published by ACS

  • Stage I: 74%
  • Stage IIA: 67%
  • Stage IIB: 59%
  • Stage IIC: 37%
  • Stage IIIA: 73%
  • Stage IIIB: 46%
  • Stage IIIC: 28%
  • Stage IV: 6%

5-Year Survival Rates Based on The American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) 6th Edition Colon Cancer Staging System

.
  • Stage I: 93.2%
  • Stage IIA: 84.7%
  • Stage IIB: 72.2%*
  • Stage IIIA: 83.4%
  • Stage IIIB: 64.1%
  • Stage IIIC: 44.3%
  • Stage IV: 8.1%

*Survival rates for stage IIIA are better than stage IIB, possibly due to more aggressive treatment of stage III cancers.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. Detailed Guide: Colon and Rectum Cancer. What Are the Survival Rates for Colorectal Cancer by Stage? Accessed: March, 2010. http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_3X_What_are_the_survival_rates_for_colorectal_cancer.asp

O'Connell JB, Maggard MA, Ko CY. http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/96/19/142 "Colon Cancer Survival Rates With the New American Joint Committee on Cancer Sixth Edition Staging." Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2004 96:1420-1425.

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