Colon cancer is highly treatable when it has not spread to other parts of the body. Treatment for this condition varies depending on the stage of the cancer. However, the chances of curing colon cancer and recovering are higher in the early stages than in the later stages.

Colon cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the colon, which is the main part of the large intestine.

People may also refer to colon cancer as colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is cancer that affects the colon or rectum. The rectum is the last several inches of the large intestine that connects the colon to the anus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer and the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States.

This article discusses the outlook for people at the different stages of colon cancer and factors that can affect the success of treatment.

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The American Cancer Society notes that the 5-year relative survival rate for all combined stages of colon cancer is 63%.

This means a person has a 63% chance of living for at least 5 years after the diagnosis compared with those without colon cancer.

During stages 1 and 2, colon cancer is still localized. This means it has not spread beyond the colon or rectum.

People with localized colon cancer have a 5-year relative survival rate of 91%.

Are stage 1 and 2 colon cancer curable?

Surgery is the primary treatment option for stage 1 and 2 colon cancer.

A surgeon will perform a partial colectomy, which involves removing the section of the colon where the cancer is located. They will also remove the nearby lymph nodes.

According to the National Cancer Institute, surgery can cure early stage colon cancer in about 50% of people.

Stage 3 colon cancer is described as regional because, at this stage, the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes but not to other parts of the body.

The 5-year relative survival rate for this stage is 72%.

Is stage 3 colon cancer curable?

Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy can treat stage 3 colon cancer. In about 50% of people with this stage of colon cancer, surgical removal of tumors may cure the cancer.

At stage 4, colon cancer is more challenging to treat and has a higher mortality rate. At this point, the cancer has spread to distant organs, which may include the liver, lungs, and distant lymph nodes.

The outlook for people with stage 4 colon cancer is generally poor, but it will also depend on factors such as which organs the cancer has spread to.

The treatment at this stage is mostly palliative and focuses on providing support and preventing and relieving symptoms.

People with this stage of colon cancer have a 5-year relative survival rate of 13%.

Is stage 4 colon cancer curable?

Curing stage 4 colon cancer is rare but possible.

A 2018 study indicated that less invasive surgical procedures that involve removing malignant tumors from an affected organ, such as liver and lung resections, may cure the condition and prolong survival in people with advanced stage colorectal cancer.

Factors that affect the outlook for those with colon cancer include:

  • Stage: This is one of the most important factors. Colon cancer in its early stages has not spread to other regions of the body and is easier to treat and cure than colon cancer in its later stages.
  • Grade: Grade refers to the level of differentiation or how abnormal cancer cells look. High grade colorectal cancers are poorly differentiated, look more atypical, and have a poorer outlook.
  • BRAF gene mutation: People with colon cancer who also have a mutation in the gene called BRAF may have a poorer outlook, as their cancer cells may be more aggressive.
  • Comorbidity and health history: People who are healthier at the time of diagnosis may have better outcomes. Also, having other coexisting health conditions, such as infection, can affect the immune system and make it harder to treat the cancer.
  • Lymph node and blood vessel involvement: Colon cancers that spread into lymph nodes and blood vessels have poorer outcomes than those that do not.
  • Obstruction or hole in the colon: Colon cancer can block a part of the large intestine or grow into its wall, causing a hole and affecting the outlook.

Receiving a diagnosis of colon cancer at any stage can be overwhelming. If a person has questions about their condition and next steps, their healthcare team is a great resource for answers and support.

People with colon cancer may wish to join local and online support groups to connect with others with similar conditions. Support groups can help reduce feelings of anxiety and loneliness, help a person cope, empower them, and provide hope.

Family and friends also have roles to play in providing support and encouragement. They can help ensure that a loved one takes their medication as instructed, eats healthy meals, and coordinates their hospital visits.

A person can find support and resources through the following organizations:

Here are some frequently asked questions about colon cancer.

Can a person live a long life with colon cancer?

With proper treatment, many people with a diagnosis of colon cancer go on to live healthy lives for years after the diagnosis.

Life expectancy will be higher for those who receive a diagnosis of early stage cancer. In some cases, treatment will cure colon cancer, but in other cases, the cancer may not go away completely.

Does colon cancer spread quickly?

Colon cancer usually grows and spreads slowly. It often starts as a benign growth called polyps, which can turn malignant.

Colon cancer occurs when changes in the DNA of cells in the colon cause the cells to grow out of control. This type of cancer is common, and doctors can diagnose it at an early or later stage.

The outlook for those with colon cancer depends on different factors, including the stage of the cancer, the size of the tumor, and the specific organs affected. However, the condition is mostly curable with the right treatment approach.