Survival Rates for Colorectal Cancer

Survival rates can give you an idea of what percentage 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 of how likely it is that your treatment will be successful.

Keep in mind that survival rates are estimates and are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had a specific cancer, but they can’t predict what will happen in any particular person’s case. These statistics can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Talk with your doctor about how these numbers may apply to you, as he or she is familiar with your situation.

What is a 5-year relative survival rate?

A relative survival rate compares people with the same type and stage of colon or rectal cancer to people in the overall population. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific stage of colon or rectal cancer is 80%, it means that people who have that cancer are, on average, about 80% as likely as people who don’t have that cancer to live for at least 5 years after being diagnosed.

Where do these numbers come from?

The American Cancer Society relies on information from the SEER* database, maintained by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), to provide survival statistics for different types of cancer.

The SEER database tracks 5-year relative survival rates for colon and rectal cancer in the United States, based on how far the cancer has spread. The SEER database, however, does not group cancers by AJCC TNM stages (stage 1, stage 2, stage 3, etc.). Instead, it groups cancers into localized, regional, and distant stages:

  • Localized: There is no sign that the cancer has spread outside of the colon or rectum. This includes AJCC stage I, IIA, and IIB cancers.
  • Regional: The cancer has spread outside the colon or rectum to nearby structures or lymph nodes. This includes stage IIC and stage III cancers in the AJCC system.
  • Distant: The cancer has spread to distant parts of the body such as the liver, lungs, or distant lymph nodes. This includes stage IV cancers.

5-year relative survival rates for colon cancer

(Based on people diagnosed with cancers of the colon between 2008 and 2014.)

SEER stage

5-year relative survival rate

Localized

90%

Regional

71%

Distant

14%

All SEER stages combined

64%

 

5-year relative survival rates for rectal cancer

(Based on people diagnosed with cancers of the rectum between 2008 and 2014.)

SEER stage

5-year relative survival rate

Localized

89%

Regional

70%

Distant

15%

All SEER stages combined

67%

 

Understanding the numbers

  • People now being diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer may have a better outlook than these numbers show. Treatments improve over time, and these numbers are based on people who were diagnosed and treated at least five years earlier.
  • These numbers apply only to the stage of the cancer when it is first diagnosed. They do not apply later on if the cancer grows, spreads, or comes back after treatment.
  • These numbers don’t take everything into account. Survival rates are grouped based on how far the cancer has spread, but your age, overall health, how well the cancer responds to treatment, and other factors will also affect your outlook.

*SEER = Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results

 

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2019. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society; 2019.

Noone AM, Howlader N, Krapcho M, Miller D, Brest A, Yu M, Ruhl J, Tatalovich Z, Mariotto A, Lewis DR, Chen HS, Feuer EJ, Cronin KA (eds). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2015, National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD, https://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2015/, based on November 2017 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER web site, April 2018.

Last Medical Review: February 21, 2018 Last Revised: February 1, 2019

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