What is the prognosis for people with 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 individual’s response to treatment. In addition, many new discoveries have the potential for improving the treatment of colorectal cancer, as well as the prognosis.

Several factors determine how well a person will do after treatment for colorectal cancer. They include:

  • Stage of the cancer: This is the most critical factor. According to the National Cancer Institute*, survival for Stage I colon or rectal cancer is about 93 percent. Survival for Stage II is between 72 and 85 percent and for Stage III, 44 and 83 percent. Chemotherapy may improve prognosis for Stage III cancer. Stage IV cancer has a poor prognosis; about 8 percent are alive at five years.
  • The number of lymph glands involved: The lymph system is a circulatory system that includes an extensive network of lymph vessels and lymph nodes. 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 your cancer will recur. Chemotherapy may be needed in cases where lymph nodes are involved.
  • If the cancer has spread to other organs: If the colorectal cancer is advanced, it may spread to other organs, such as the liver or lungs. In this case, additional chemotherapy or radiation may be needed to help delay the further spread of the cancer.
  • Quality of the surgery: This is most important for rectal cancers, where the surgery can be difficult.

Many people who have had colorectal cancer live normal life spans. The treatments available today offer good outcomes, but you may require several treatments or a combination of treatments (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation) to have the best chance of avoiding a recurrence of the cancer. Remember to tell your doctor about any changes in your health. This will help him or her decide if you need any additional screening tests or treatment.

*Information is based on a National Cancer Institute Study that looked at 120,000 people diagnosed with colon cancer between 1991 and 2000.


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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: 11/19/2014...#9717