- Colorectal cancer survival rates by stage are important in understanding diagnosis and course of treatment.
- The more contained a cancer is and the earlier it’s caught, the higher the survival rate. For this reason, regular screening is key to better outcomes.
- Relative survival rates are used to weigh risks and benefits of cancer treatment options.
Colorectal cancer survival rates by stage drive testing and treatment options. Yet, patients often remain unclear on how these rates are determined and how doctors use them. Here’s what you should know about colorectal cancer survival rates, why they matter, and steps you can take to improve yours.
Colorectal Cancer: The Facts
- Colorectal cancers include any cancer found in the colon or rectum.
- An estimated 150,000 Americans a year are diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
- Worldwide, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer.
- Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death by cancer.
- Colorectal cancers are graded into five stages, from 0 to IV, with IV being the most severe, and substages up to C, with IVC being the most severe.
- The size of the tumor and how far the cancer has spread in your body determine the stage of colorectal cancer.
- Knowing your stage is key to understanding survival rates and overall risk.
How Are Cancer Survival Rates Defined?
The cancer survival rate is expressed as a five-year survival rate, or the percentage of people who are alive five years after diagnosis. The five-year period is long enough to show the effectiveness of treatments for aggressive diseases like cancer but short enough to keep track of improving diagnostic tools and treatments as well such as demographic shifts.
Survival rates can either be relative or absolute. Absolute survival rate is the percentage of survivors after diagnosis with no other factors considered. The relative survival rate looks at how people diagnosed with cancer fared after five years compared to the rest of the group in their demographic profile. Relative survival rates commonly use age and gender for demographics, although other factors, such as race, may also be used.
Relative rates help doctors and patients weigh the benefits of treatment against the risks, pain, and cost of surgery. This is why colorectal cancer screening recommendations tend to recommend ending regular testing at age 85. The risks of treatment after 85 often outweigh the potential benefits.
Relative survival rates are further broken down by the overall spread of the cancer, as determined by the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program:
- Localized cancer. Cancer that hasn’t left the organ it was diagnosed in.
- Regional cancer. Cancer that has spread to nearby lymph nodes and tissues but hasn’t been found elsewhere in the body.
- Distant cancer. Cancer that has spread farther into the body, such as distant lymph nodes.
Why Are Relative Colorectal Cancer Survival Rates by Stage Important?
For colorectal cancer, your relative survival rate will help you decide what treatments, if any, to use. For example, the relative survival rate for colorectal cancer is 64 percent, but that’s an average of the three rates. Broken out by SEER types, the need for finding cancer early becomes clear:
|SEER type||Colorectal Cancer Stage||Survival Rate|
|Localized||Stage 0 and stage I||91%|
|Regional||Stages II and III||72%|
What Factors Affect My Colorectal Cancer Survival Rate?
Everybody’s different, but there are a few factors that can raise or lower your odds of surviving five years or longer after a diagnosis. Some are built into who we are while others are changeable.
Race and Socioeconomic Status
Both race and socioeconomic status factor into relative survival rates. One study of survival rates across race found that Black Americans had a 10 percent lower relative survival rate despite survival rates rising across a decade for both races. Meanwhile, a German study focused on socioeconomic status found that people in more deprived areas had a five percent lower survival rate.
Regardless of these factors, it is important to talk to your doctor about screening, because the earlier cancer is caught, the higher your chance of survival.
While it’s not news that as we age, our risk of every disease goes up, this is beginning to change for colorectal cancer. While incidence has dropped among older populations, colorectal cancer in people under 40 has become more commonplace over the last few decades. The reason why younger people are seeing higher rates remains uncertain, but it underscores the importance of screening early.
By far, the biggest shift in colorectal cancer survival rates has been due to the increasing availability of screening, more effective screening tools, and declining costs. At-home colorectal cancer screening is now commonplace and often recommended.
Screening helps find cancers in earlier stages, which results in effective and less-invasive surgical interventions, such as polyp removal during colonoscopy. In general, you should begin talking with your doctor about regular screening around age 40 to 45.
Certain lifestyle changes can help with survival rates. For example, while smoking before a cancer diagnosis raised overall mortality, those who quit after diagnosis had a higher chance of survival. Similarly, getting more activity and a healthy diet helps reduce your risk of all cancers, not just colorectal cancer.
The “big four” lifestyle changes are:
- Quitting smoking
- Getting 150 minutes or more of moderate exercise weekly
- Eating a diet heavy on grains, vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins
- Limiting alcohol consumption to one drink or less a day
Survival Rates Rise With Early Detection
Studying colorectal cancer survival rates by stage highlights the importance of reducing your risk of getting the disease. Lifestyle changes and regular screening are the best ways to catch colorectal cancer early. If you’re 40 or older and not at high risk for developing colon cancer, consider at-home colorectal cancer screening. Home test kits make screening convenient, accurate, and easier than ever before.
Dan is a long-time freelance writer focusing on technology, science, health, and medicine, with a lifelong interest in physics, biology, and medicine. His work has taken a particular focus on scientific studies “beyond the headlines,” reading the study to more closely examine the results.