Colorectal Cancer

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Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

What are the survival rates for colorectal cancer, by stage?

Survival rates tell you what portion of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive a certain amount of time (usually 5 years) after they were diagnosed. They can’t tell you how long you will live, but they may help give you a better understanding about how likely it is that your treatment will be successful. Some people will want to know the survival rates for their cancer type and stage, and some people won’t. If you don’t want to know, you don’t have to.

What is a 5-year survival rate?

Statistics on the outlook for a certain type and stage of cancer are often given as 5-year survival rates, but many people live longer – often much longer – than 5 years. The 5-year survival rate is the percentage of people who live at least 5 years after being diagnosed with cancer. For example, a 5-year survival rate of 90% means that an estimated 90 out of 100 people who have that cancer are still alive 5 years after being diagnosed. Keep in mind, however, that many of these people live much longer than 5 years after diagnosis.

Relative survival rates are a more accurate way to estimate the effect of cancer on survival. These rates compare people with colorectal cancer to people in the overall population. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific type and stage of cancer is 90%, it means that people who have that cancer are, on average, about 90% as likely as people who don’t have that cancer to live for at least 5 years after being diagnosed.

But remember, the 5-year relative survival rates are estimates – your outlook can vary based on a number of factors specific to you.

Cancer survival rates don’t tell the whole story

Survival rates are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had the disease, but they can’t predict what will happen in any particular person’s case. There are a number of limitations to remember:

  • The numbers below are among the most current available. But to get 5-year survival rates, doctors have to look at people who were treated at least 5 years ago. As treatments are improving over time, people who are now being diagnosed with colorectal cancer may have a better outlook than these statistics show.
  • These statistics are based on the stage of the cancer when it was first diagnosed. They do not apply to cancers that later come back or spread, for example.
  • The outlook for people with colorectal cancer varies by the stage (extent) of the cancer – in general, the survival rates are higher for people with earlier stage cancers. But many other factors can affect a person’s outlook, such as age and overall health, and how well the cancer responds to treatment. The outlook for each person is specific to his or her circumstances.

Your doctor can tell you how these numbers may apply to you, as he or she is familiar with your particular situation.

Colon cancer survival rates, by stage

The numbers below come from the National Cancer Institute’s SEER database, looking at people diagnosed with colon cancer between 2004 and 2010.

  • The 5-year relative survival rate for people with stage I colon cancer is about 92%.
  • For people with stage IIA colon cancer, the 5-year relative survival rate is about 87%. For stage IIB cancer, the survival rate is about 63%.
  • The 5-year relative survival rate for stage IIIA colon cancers is about 89%. For stage IIIB cancers the survival rate is about 69%, and for stage IIIC cancers the survival rate is about 53%.
  • Colon cancers that have spread to other parts of the body are often harder to treat and tend to have a poorer outlook. Metastatic, or stage IV colon cancers, have a 5-year relative survival rate of about 11%. Still, there are often many treatment options available for people with this stage of cancer.

These statistics are based on a previous version of the TNM staging system. In that version, there was no stage IIC (those cancers were considered stage IIB). Also, some cancers that are now considered stage IIIC were classified as stage IIIB, while some other cancers that are now considered stage IIIB were classified as stage IIIC.

Remember, these survival rates are only estimates – they can’t predict what will happen to any individual person. We understand that these statistics can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Talk to your doctor to better understand your specific situation.

Rectal cancer survival rates, by stage

The numbers below come from the National Cancer Institute’s SEER database, looking at people diagnosed with rectal cancer between 2004 and 2010.

  • The 5-year relative survival rate for people with stage I rectal cancer is about 87%.
  • For people with stage IIA rectal cancer, the 5-year relative survival rate is about 80%. For stage IIB cancer, the survival rate is about 49%.
  • The 5-year relative survival rate for stage IIIA rectal cancers is about 84%. For stage IIIB cancers the survival rate is about 71%, and for stage IIIC cancers the survival rate is about 58%.
  • Rectal cancers that have spread to other parts of the body are often harder to treat and tend to have a poorer outlook. Metastatic, or stage IV rectal cancers, have a 5-year relative survival rate of about 12%. Still, there are often many treatment options available for people with this stage of cancer.

These statistics are based on a previous version of the TNM staging system. In that version, there was no stage IIC (those cancers were considered stage IIB). Also, some cancers that are now considered stage IIIC were classified as stage IIIB, while some other cancers that are now considered stage IIIB were classified as stage IIIC.

Remember, these survival rates are only estimates – they can’t predict what will happen to any individual person. We understand that these statistics can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Talk to your doctor to better understand your specific situation.


Last Medical Review: 10/15/2015
Last Revised: 01/20/2016