Survival rates can give you an idea of what percentage of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive a certain amount of time (usually 5 years) after they were diagnosed. They can’t tell you how long you will live, but they may help give you a better understanding of how likely it is that your treatment will be successful.
Keep in mind that survival rates are estimates and are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had a specific cancer, but they can’t predict what will happen in any particular person’s case. These statistics can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Your doctor is familiar with your situation, ask how these numbers may apply to you.
What is a 5-year relative survival rate?
A relative survival rate compares people with the same type and stage of cancer to people in the overall population. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific stage of colon or rectal cancer is 80%, it means that people who have that cancer are, on average, about 80% as likely as people who don’t have that cancer to live for at least 5 years after being diagnosed.
Where do these numbers come from?
The American Cancer Society relies on information from the SEER* database, maintained by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), to provide survival statistics for different types of cancer.
The SEER database tracks 5-year relative survival rates for colon and rectal cancer in the United States, based on how far the cancer has spread. The SEER database, however, does not group cancers by AJCC TNM stages (stage 1, stage 2, stage 3, etc.). Instead, it groups cancers into localized, regional, and distant stages:
- Localized: There is no sign that the cancer has spread outside of the colon or rectum.
- Regional: The cancer has spread outside the colon or rectum to nearby structures or lymph nodes.
- Distant: The cancer has spread to distant parts of the body such as the liver, lungs, or distant lymph nodes.
5-year relative survival rates for colon cancer
These numbers are based on people diagnosed with cancers of the colon between 2011 and 2017.