Colon cancer can return after treatment. When this happens, this is called recurrent colon cancer. The outlook for recurrent colon cancer depends on several factors.

Colon cancer is when cells within a person’s colon begin to grow in an unusual, uncontrolled way.

Although doctors can treat this condition, there is a risk that someone’s colon cancer can return after treatment. These colon cancer recurrences are most common within 2–3 years after the initial colon cancer treatment.

A nurse preparing a person for surgery to treat recurrent colon cancer-2.Share on Pinterest
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It is possible for treatment to cure colon cancer. However, colon cancer can come back after treatment, even if it is successful.

A 2016 study estimates that between 30–40% of people who receive treatment for colon cancer will develop a recurrent form of the condition.

According to a 2020 paper, even people who received curative surgical treatment have a 4–11.5% risk of colon cancer recurrence.

As the same 2016 study explains, when colon cancer does recur, it has often spread to other body parts.

Common sites of colon cancer recurrence include the lungs and liver. It can also recur in the pelvis or the peritoneum. Colon cancer can also recur in the colon itself.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) notes that if colon cancer returns locally, a combination of surgery and chemotherapy may be able to cure local recurrent colon cancer.

If it is not possible to cure recurrent colon cancer, doctors may instead try to help manage symptoms and increase life expectancy.

If someone’s recurrent colon cancer has spread to other organs, whether the cancer is curable depends on its location and stage.

A 2020 study notes that the outlook can depend on whether the recurrent colon cancer is local, regional, or distant:

  • local recurrent colon cancer has a 5-year survival rate of 90%
  • regional recurrent colon cancer has a 5-year survival rate of 70%
  • distant recurrent colon cancer has a 5-year survival rate of 10%

In a 2022 study, 1 in 4 people with local recurrent colon cancer received treatment with the intention of curing the cancer. They had a 3-year overall survival rate of 71%.

Some colon cancers are asymptomatic. When there are symptoms, they depend upon the location of cancer recurrence. If the cancer recurs in the colon, it could cause the following:

  • abdominal pain
  • changes in how someone passes stool
  • back or pelvic pain
  • weight loss
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue

Some people may experience shortness of breath. This could also indicate the cancer has recurred in the lungs.

After a recurrent colon cancer diagnosis, a healthcare professional will discuss any potential next steps and treatment options with the individual.

Finding out that cancer has returned can be challenging. A person may wish to speak with friends, family, and loved ones for support. Speaking with a mental health professional may also be beneficial.

According to the ACS, a healthcare professional may suggest surgery followed by chemotherapy to treat local recurrence.

If a surgeon cannot remove the cancer surgically, they will first suggest chemotherapy. This may shrink the tumor enough for surgery to become an option.

To treat distant recurrence, a healthcare professional may suggest surgery. If surgery is not an option, they may administer chemotherapy first, followed by surgery.

Other treatment options include:

A healthcare professional will tailor a person’s treatment plan based on:

  • the drugs they had to treat the initial cancer
  • how long ago a person had the drugs to treat cancer
  • a person’s overall health

It can be challenging for doctors to diagnose recurrent colon cancer. This is because it can show very few specific signs. However, various tests can assist with diagnosis. These include:

  • positron emission tomography (PET) scans
  • computed tomography (CT) scans
  • colonoscopy
  • biopsy

Some organizations can offer specialized support for those who have this condition. In particular, the ACS could offer the following assistance:

  • a 24/7 helpline
  • free travel to treatment
  • free lodging during treatment

Friends, family, and loved ones can also offer their support.

Recurrent colon cancer is when someone’s colon cancer comes back after treatment. It may recur in the colon itself or other body parts.

Even after curative surgery, many people’s colon cancer will come back. This is likeliest to occur within 2 or 3 years of initial treatment. Because recurrent colon cancer can be asymptomatic, it may take some time before an individual realizes that the cancer has come back.

Doctors treat recurrent colon cancer with surgery, which they might sometimes combine with chemotherapy. Surgery can sometimes cure recurrent colon cancer. It can also improve the outlook for those with this condition.