However, over the past two decades, colon cancer has become associated with young adults more and more. Fight CRC is working to make people aware that colorectal cancer is predicted to become the top cancer killer among young adults by 2030.
While the sting of a diagnosis is not fresh for me anymore, I remember what it felt like to hear those first words, “You have cancer.” I remember not really knowing or understanding what surviving colon cancer would take. I remember having lots of questions.
If you’re in this boat, and you too have lots of questions, hopefully this post can be a first step for you. I’ve blogged a lot about my experience of surviving colon cancer specifically, as well as cancer survivorship in general. I open up and share what I know with the hopes of encouraging you.
Can you survive colon cancer?
If you’re searching for hope, you don’t have to look too far. I am living proof that yes, colon cancer is survivable. I’m not the only survivor of colon cancer, either.
How many people survive colon cancer?
The American Cancer Society releases "Facts & Figures," which are predictions of how many people will be diagnosed with certain types of cancers each year, and how many deaths there will be. They analyze past years and current trends, and their researchers come up with these numbers. They’re very accurate.
So, for 2022, ACS estimated:
- 106,180 new cases of colon cancer
- 44,850 new cases of rectal cancer
- 52,580 deaths from colorectal cancer
Out of these the people diagnosed with colorectal cancer, there are 1.4 million colorectal cancer survivors. This is up from 1 million, which we hit around 2012/2013.
This is encouraging!
For another good breakdown, check out what Cancer.net wrote about colorectal cancer statistics.
What is the survival rate of colon cancer?
This is often the top question patients want to know. Is colon cancer survivable? What are my chances? While I’m living proof that colon cancer is survivable, unfortunately, not everyone who is diagnosed beats the disease.
I’ve worked on content teams that hesitate putting survival statistics out there, because they don’t want patients to lose hope. Also, survival rates are general percentages, and each patient’s case is very unique. I think this is important to remember.
However, I’m also realistic, and I know patients want to know their odds and have some numbers.
If you’re researching survival statistics, make sure to get your information from reliable sources. Also, read up on what the 5-year survival rate means, and where the data is coming from.
Here’s the colon cancer and rectal cancer survival rates, based on data analyzed between the American Cancer Society 2011-2017. These rates are basically saying this is the percentage of people who live at least five years following their cancer diagnosis.
Colon cancer survival rates
- Localized (cancer has not spread): 91% (So, there's a 91% chance you'll be alive in 5 years after being diagnosed. This usually applies to stage 1 colon cancer, and sometimes stage 2.)
- Regional (cancer has spread to nearby organs, and/or lymph nodes): 72% (So, there's a 72% chance you'll be alive in 5 years after being diagnosed. This usually applies to stage 2 colon cancer or stage 3 colon cancer.)
- Distant (cancer has spread to places far away from colon like liver, lungs and lymph): 14% (So, there's a 14% chance you'll be alive in 5 years after being diagnosed. This usually applies to stage 4 colon cancer.)
Rectal cancer survival rates
- Localized (cancer has not spread, usually stage I): 90%
- Regional 73%
- Distant 17%
Fun fact: This data is taken from what’s called SEER Data, a program by the National Cancer Institute, and as a patient at MD Anderson, I became part of these studies. For years, I filled out surveys they mailed to my house that asked about my health. It feels good to know that something as small as filling out a survey went into helping other patients get reliable information.
Is stage 3 colon cancer survivable?
The survival rates can be a bit confusing because SEER data uses terms like “local, regional and distant” while our cancers are typically staged as stage 1, stage 2, stage 3 and stage 4. But, yes, stage 3 cancer is survivable. Based on the survival rates above, your odds are 72-73% that you’ll be alive in 5 years.
To give you hope: I’ve been surviving stage 3 colon cancer since 2001, and I’ve met many other colon cancer survivors and rectal cancer survivors diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer.
For encouragement, read through the Champion Stories at Fight CRC.
Can someone survive stage 4 colon cancer?
Yes, there are many stage 4 colorectal cancer survivors who are alive and well today. Many of them are my friends.
Jamie Aten wrote about surviving stage 4 colon cancer. Teri Griege is always a beacon of hope. Erika Bilger, who inspired The Colon Club’s Colondar, is still doing well two decades later. These are just a few of my stage IV survivor friends.
Here are more stage IV colorectal cancer stories.
I know hearing “stage 4” cancer is terrifying. I’ve walked through this with many friends. I’ll be completely honest: Some of my friends with stage 4 colorectal cancer did not beat the disease. Some of them did. Some of them are on maintenance chemo and have been for many years. But honestly, this is also the case with friends diagnosed at other stages. Even stage 1 patients face unexpected recurrences and rough days.
Your stage will drive the steps in your treatment plan, but don't let it dictate more than it should.
If I can offer any advice from my fight and theirs, it’s find a way to maximize every day you have, advocate for yourself, find purpose in light of the pain, and always do what’s best for you and your family.
How to survive colon cancer
I wish I could tell you there’s a magic bullet for surviving colon cancer, but you probably know by now that each cancer is unique. We’re all different, even if our diagnoses appear to be the same.
However, there are some observations I’ve made over the years after meeting hundreds of survivors and caregivers. Here’s a few tips for surviving colon cancer, from one survivor to another:
- Make sure you trust your doctor(s) and understand what they are recommending. Also, form a bond with an oncology nurse. It will change your life.
- Get a second opinion, preferably from an NCI-designated cancer hospital. You don’t have to choose to be treated there, but it will connect you with expert opinions and, usually, clinical trials. This is always important to consider, regardless of your stage.
- Ask for your treatment plan in writing so you can go home and do your own research.
- Get tested for biomarkers. This is cutting-edge stuff, and it can let you know if certain treatments will or won’t work for you.
- Turn to reliable sources for information. I know a lot of blogs will tell you things like sugar caused cancer, and that hot dogs caused your colon cancer, but oncology dietitians stand on research that disagrees. A lot of people will tell you to take all kinds of supplements and suggest treatments to try. Be careful. Again: Work closely with your doctors.
- Get lots of rest. You may feel the urge to get a bucket list going and cross everything off, but stress really can bring you and your health down. Make plans and create memories, but don’t forget to slow down.
- Maximize your life. This is one of the few gifts cancer will bring. Take time to soak in the moments you do have. Spend your time with people you love. Do what brings you joy. And take lots of pictures while you’re at it.
- Accept the help people offer. Let support come your way. This is a time to receive and not give. If people want to give you money and gift cards, if they mow your lawn or clean your house, if they set up a Meal Train, if they send you encouraging texts every morning—let them.
- Find community. There’s going to be people physically close to you who want to help, but there’s a lot of us connected via online groups and colorectal cancer advocacy groups. Some of us also meet one another through hashtags on Instagram. Contact me if you’re looking for some suggestions on where to find other patients to connect with. I’m happy to help.
- Tap into your faith. This disease can’t help but poke at your spiritual side. You can’t get cancer and not think about the afterlife. This is a time to really evaluate what you believe about God and your faith. If you’re questioning, searching or need someone to chat with about this, I’m here and can be a set of non-judgmental ears.