What is my risk for cancer recurrence?

Even after treatment for colorectal cancer, there is a risk that the cancer will come back. In 35 percent to 40 percent of people treated for colorectal cancer, the cancer will come back within three to five years of treatment. The cancer might recur in the colon or rectum, or in another part of the body. Recurrent colorectal cancer often is found in the liver and/or lungs.

What is the outlook following treatment for colorectal cancer?

Every person is different and responds differently to treatment. However, with prompt and appropriate treatment, the outlook for a person with colorectal cancer is hopeful. The survival rate for people with colorectal cancer depends on the extent of the cancer at the time of diagnosis and the person's response to treatment. In addition, many new discoveries have the potential for improving the treatment of colorectal cancer, as well as the prognosis.

The following factors determine how well a person will do after treatment for colorectal cancer:

  • Size of the cancer — The size of the tumor and how deep it has gone into the tissue affects whether or not it will return. The deeper the tumor invades tissues, the higher the chance of recurrence.
  • Number of lymph glands involved — The lymphatic system helps coordinate the immune system’s function to protect the body from foreign substances. The more lymph glands that were affected by the cancer, the more likely the cancer will return.
  • Spread to other organs — If the colorectal cancer is discovered in the later stages, it might have spread to other organs, such as the liver or lungs. This might increase the chance that the cancer will recur. In this case, additional chemotherapy or radiation might be needed to help prevent the further spread of the cancer.
  • Quality of the surgery — This is important for colon cancer, but particularly important for rectal cancer, where the surgery can be more difficult. Survival rates for Stage III rectal cancers can vary from 30 percent to 75 percent, depending on who does the operation.

Many people who have had colorectal cancer live normal life spans. The treatments available today offer a lot of hope, but a person might need several treatments or a combination of treatments including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation to have the best chance of curing cancer.

What happens if the cancer comes back?

If the cancer has come back in only one part of the body, treatment might consist of an operation to take out the cancer. If the cancer has spread to several parts of the body, a doctor might give the person either chemotherapy or radiation. He or she also might choose to participate in a clinical trial testing new chemotherapy drugs or biological therapy.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 12/8/2004…#11924