What Is the Life Expectancy of Someone with Colon Cancer?

Ask a Doctor

My co-worker recently went on medical leave because they are being treated for colon cancer. I don’t know any of the details, but I’m worried she may not come back. Can you die if you have colon cancer? What is the life expectancy for someone with colon cancer?

Doctor’s Response

You may die if you have colon cancer, but the amount of time you have to live after being diagnosed with colon cancer depends on the stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis, as well your age, overall health, and whether you have other medical conditions. The cure rate is relatively high in the early stages. Once the cancer has spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body the survival rate is much lower.

Life expectancy for cancers is often expressed as a 5-year survival rate (the percent of patients who will be alive 5 years after diagnosis) but people can live much longer.

  • Stage I: The 5-year survival rate for people diagnosed at this stage is 92%. This means 92 out of 100 people diagnosed with stage I colon cancer will be alive 5 years following diagnosis.
  • Stage IIA: 87%; Stage IIB: 65%
  • Stage IIIA: 90%; Stage IIIB: 72%; Stage IIIC: 53%
  • Stage IV (widely spread cancer): 12%

Living with cancer presents many new challenges, both for you and for your family and friends.

  • You will probably have many worries about how the cancer will affect you and your ability to "live a normal life," that is, to care for your family and home, to hold your job, and to continue the friendships and activities you enjoy.
  • Many people feel anxious and depressed. Some people feel angry and resentful; others feel helpless and defeated.
  • For most people with cancer, talking about their feelings and concerns helps.
  • Your friends and family members can be very supportive. They may be hesitant to offer support until they see how you are coping. Don't wait for them to bring it up. If you want to talk about your concerns, let them know.
  • Some people don't want to "burden" their loved ones, or prefer talking about their concerns with a more neutral professional. A social worker, counselor, or member of the clergy can be helpful if you want to discuss your feelings and concerns about having cancer. Your primary care doctor or oncologist should be able to recommend someone.
  • Many people with cancer are profoundly helped by talking to other people who have cancer. Sharing your concerns with others who have been through the same thing can be remarkably reassuring. Support groups of people with cancer may be available through the medical center where you are receiving your treatment. The American Cancer Society also has information about support groups all over the United States.

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Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD coauthored this article.


American Cancer Society. Survival Rates for Colorectal Cancer, by Stage. 9 July 2018. 3 January 2019 .