After a Colon Cancer Diagnosis: Survival Percentage and Mortality Rates

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After you have been diagnosed with colon cancer, it is completely natural to wonder about your future. Some of the first questions you may have are ‘Is my cancer curable?’ or ‘How long do I have?’

Before we start discussing colon cancer survival percentage and mortality rates, you should remember that cancer survival statistics are often complex and can be confusing. These numbers are based on large groups of people with cancer, and can’t predict exactly how well you or any one individual will do. No two people diagnosed with colon cancer have the exact same circumstances. 

In this article, we talk about the different types of colon cancer, its different stages, and colon cancer survival and mortality rates. 

Types of Colon Cancer

There are different types of colon cancer, each originating in a different type of cell. A pathologist can determine the type of colon cancer an individual has by examining a tissue sample under a microscope; this information can then be provided to the patient’s oncologists, who can use the cellular classification to determine the most suitable treatment. 

The most common type of colon cancer is adenocarcinoma – a type of carcinoid tumor. However, there are several other types, as well. The type of colon cancer sometimes influences the treatments used.

The main types of colon cancer include:

  • Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors. Gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors develop in the neuroendocrine cells that form the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. These tumors are fairly slow-growing, although most patients develop several at the same time. The most common type of adenocarcinoma, which forms in the mucus-secreting glands and accounts for most colon cancer diagnoses. 
  • Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors. Gastrointestinal stromal tumors develop in the interstitial cells of Cajal, which are part of the autonomic nervous system and serve as ‘pacemakers’ for the muscles in the intestine. However, these tumors are not always cancerous – many are benign and incapable of spreading. 
  • Squamous Cell Carcinomas. Squamous cell carcinomas develop in the smooth muscle cells or blood vessels of the colon. There are different carcinoma subtypes, including angiosarcomas and leiomyosarcomas. These cancers are among the least frequently diagnosed out of all colon cancers. 
  • Primary Colorectal Lymphomas. Primary colorectal lymphomas develop in the lymphocytes, or immune system cells. Lymphomas of the colon are quite rare and account for only a small percent of all colon cancers. 

Colon Cancer Stages

Colon cancer stages are based on 4 specific factors, including how large the tumor is, whether the cancer is detected in the lymph nodes, whether the cancer has spread to nearby tissues, and how the cancer cells appear when examined under a microscope. These factors are then evaluated separately, and individual assessments are combined into a single score. 

Colon cancer stages range from 0 to 4 – lower stages indicate less invasive cancers. 

Colon cancer stages are described as follows:

  • Stage 0. Stage 0 colon cancer is limited to the lining of the colon; the cancer has not spread to nearby tissues or the lymph nodes. 
  • Stage 1. Stage 1 colon cancer is limited to the lining of the colon and the connective tissues underneath the colon’s mucous membrane. At this stage, the cancer has not spread to the surrounding tissues or lymph nodes. 
  • Stage 2. Stage 2 colon cancer has already spread through the different layers of the colon, and possibly to nearby tissues. However, at this stage, the cancer has not reached the lymph nodes or distant organs. 
  • Stage 3. Stage 3 colon cancer has grown past the colon. At this stage, the cancer has started to spread to the surrounding tissues and lymph nodes; though the cancer has not reached distant organs. 
  • Stage 4. Stage 4 colon cancer is present in one or more organs other than the colon. The main tumor can be any size and lymph nodes may or may not be included. 

Factors That Affect Colon Cancer Prognosis

If you have been diagnosed with colon cancer, many factors can affect your prognosis. According to the National Cancer Institute, these factors include:

  • Stage. The stage of colon cancer refers to how fat it has spread. Localized cancer that hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes or distant organs typically has a better outcome than cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. 
  • Grade. Colon cancer grade refers to how close the cancer cells look to normal cells. The more abnormal the cells look, the higher its grade. Low-grade colon cancers tend to have a better outcome. 
  • Colon Blockage. Colon cancer can cause a colon blockage or grow through the colon wall and cause a hole in the bowel – either of these situations can impact your outlook. 
  • Lymph Node Involvement. In some cases, cancer cells travel from their original site to the lymph nodes. The more lymph nodes that have cancer cells, the higher the chances are for the cancer to return. 
  • Overall Health. Your overall health can affect your ability to tolerate treatment and may play a role in your outcome. In most cases, the healthier you are at the time of diagnosis, the better you may be able to deal with treatment and its side effects. 

Survival by Stage. Cancer stage at diagnosis determines treatment options and has a strong influence on survival rate. Generally, if the cancer is found only in the part of the body where it started, it is localized – this is sometimes referred to as stage 1. If it has spread to a different part of the body, the stage is regional or distant. 

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The earlier the colon cancer is caught, the better chance a person has of surviving 5 years after being diagnosed. For colon colorectal cancer, 38.2% are diagnosed at the local stage. The 5-year survival rate for localized colorectal cancer is 90.2%. 

Understanding Colon Cancer Survival Rates

Colon cancer survival rates indicate the percentage of people with colon cancer who are still alive after a certain number of years. Many colon cancer statistics involve a 5-year survival rate. For instance, if the 5-year survival rate of localized colon cancer is 80%, that means that 80% of individuals diagnosed with localized colon cancer are still alive 5 years after their initial diagnosis. 

However, please remember that statistics don’t tell individual stories. Everyone is different – these statistics can’t predict your individual outcome. It’s easy to get caught up in statistics, prognosis, and outcomes, but keep in mind that every person is different. Your colon cancer experience may be different from someone else’s – even if you have the same staged disease. 

5-Year Survival Rates for Colon Cancer. The colon cancer survival rate is encouragingly high – more than 92% of patients diagnosed with stage 1 colon cancer live for at least 5 years after diagnosis. The survival rates for more advanced stages have also been steadily increasing, primarily due to the availability of more effective treatment options and an increasingly better understanding of the disease. 

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However, while colon cancer survival rate information can help people learn more about the experiences of other patients with the disease, the statistics don’t consider personal factors that can improve a person’s chances of survival. For example:

  • Individuals who participate in regular screenings have a better chance of early detection, and thus have a better chance of survival. It’s estimated that up to 60% of all colon cancer-related deaths could be prevented if everyone followed the appropriate screening recommendations. 
  • Individuals who seek care from an oncologist – or preferably, a team of oncologists – with extensive experience in treating different forms of colorectal cancer often benefit from more individualized treatments. Oncologists who treat many patients with these conditions have a broader experience with different treatment options, and can provide you with a more tailored treatment plan. 

Also, according to the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program, the 5-year survival rate for people with colon cancer is as follows:

  • Localized. Localized means that the cancer remains in the part of the body where it started. Survival rate is at 90%.
  • Regional. Regional means that the cancer has spread to a different part of the body. Survival rate is at 71%. 
  • Distant. Distant means that the cancer has spread to a different part of the body; it is typically referred to as ‘metastatic’ cancer. Survival rate is at 14%. 

Colon Cancer Death Rates

According to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program of the National Cancer Institute, colon cancer death rates are as follows:

Estimated New Cases in 2020147,950
% of All New Cancer Cases8.2%
Estimated Deaths in 202053,200
% of All Cancer Deaths8.8%

The Bottom Line

Keep in mind that everyone’s situation is different. Even if you have the same staged cancer, it doesn’t mean that you’ll have the same experience. Also, please remember that these numbers are just general guidelines and can’t predict your individual outcome. 

If you’d like to learn more about your prognosis or life expectancy, talk with your doctor. 

Disclaimer: The information on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All information contained on this web site is for general information purposes only.

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