Colon Cancer Recurrence Statistics

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After the diagnosis and successful treatment of colon cancer, it is completely normal to be bombarded with thoughts of recurrence. At times, every twinge, irregular bowel movement, or jolt of pain may serve as a reminder of the disease and its possible reemergence.

Your risk of recurrence is dependent on many factors, such as the stage and grade of your colon cancer and what treatment you received. Thinking about colon cancer recurrence and worrying about it are two different things. Make sure your conscientious behavior doesn’t enter obsessive territory by learning the facts about recurrence.

types of colon cancer recurrence

Verywell / Laura Porter

Types of Recurrence

While the successful treatment of colon cancer may eradicate all traces of the disease, there are no guarantees that the results will be lasting. When your tests show a complete absence of cancer cells after treatment, you are said to be in complete remission.

Remission is a term used to describe an absence of detectable cancer cells in your body. When there is certainty that the cancer will not come back—generally after five or more years in complete remission—your healthcare provider may then say you are "cured."

When cancer recurs, there is a chance it was never completely removed or it had already spread to distant sites and went undetected on screening tests like a PET scan. When this happens, the pattern of cancer recurrence may be described in one of three ways:

  • Local, meaning cancer has returned to the same place it started
  • Regional, meaning that cancer has come back in the lymph nodes close to the original tumor
  • Distant, meaning that cancer has traveled to a distant site (also known as metastasis)

Survival Statistics

Here is the thing to remember about cancer and survival statistics: Most of the numbers do not take into account the variable factors, such as treatment modalities or the stage of cancer, that impact your survival rate.

In recent years, researchers have been taking a closer look at how the cancer stage impacts recurrence rates. What they have found, not surprisingly, is that the more advanced the initial cancer is, the greater the risk of relapse.

Approximately 30–40% of patients develop recurrence following surgery and 40–50% of recurrences are apparent within the first few years after initial surgical resection. A study from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center reported that, among 1,320 people with metastatic colon cancer, 243 (18%) experienced recurrence. Factors for recurrence included the location of the primary tumor, the number of lymph nodes affected, and the person's age.

Further supporting these finding are statistical analyses of the five-year survival rates among people with colon cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the percentage of people who are likely to survive for at least five years following diagnosis depends on the cancer stage:

  • Localized: 89%
  • Regional: 71%
  • Distant: 15%

Keep in mind, the current five-year survival rates by colon cancer stage are, at the very least, five years behind current trends and treatments in oncology. The data are collected over time and are at best historic; take them with a grain of salt.


Following your cancer treatment, your healthcare provider will suggest frequent screening tests to prevent a recurrence. You know your body better than anyone. If you notice that anything is off or unusual, tell your healthcare provider. Some signs to watch for include:

  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
  • A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Dark stools or blood in the stool
  • Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss

After a person is successfully treated for cancer, follow-up appointments may be as frequent as every three months. This is because 60% to 80% of colorectal cancer recurrences develop within two years of the primary malignancy.


The treatment options available depend on the type of recurrence (local, regional, or distant). If the cancer recurrence is localized, the healthcare provider may suggest a surgical resection, which includes removing the portion of the bowel that contains cancer.

If the cancer is distant or metastatic, the healthcare provider may suggest surgery of the metastatic sites along with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Your surgeon and oncologist will work with you to present the best treatment options based on the stage of your cancer and your personal health and risk factors.

According to a study published in Annals of Surgical Treatment and Research, the liver was the most common site of early recurrence (40.5%), while the most common sites of later recurrence were the lungs (32.8%) or local area (28.1%).


Fear of recurrence is a strong motivator for many colon cancer survivors. It can stimulate healthier lifestyle choices, changes in diet, and the decision to undergo regular screening tests, such as a colonoscopy or virtual colonoscopy. However, this fear can sometimes feel overwhelming and preoccupy your every thought if you let it.

As tough as it may seem, there are things you can do to help you cope:

  • Talk to a loved one and share what you're thinking.
  • Schedule and keep your routine exams and appointments.
  • Get support from survivors like yourself.
  • Find a counselor experienced in cancer survivorship.
  • Keep informed about new studies and ever-changing treatment options.
  • Make positive choices about your overall health, not just those associated with cancer.
  • Take life one day at a time.

Now is the time to embrace positive change in your health and well-being. While you cannot predict the chances that your colon cancer will recur, you can take control of your life by improving your diet, exercising regularly, and making good health choices.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Cancer Institute. Understanding cancer prognosis.

  2. American Cancer Society. What Is cancer recurrence?

  3. Walker AS, Johnson EK, Maykel JA, et al. Future directions for the early detection of colorectal cancer recurrenceJ Cancer. 2014;5(4):272-280. doi:10.7150/jca.8871

  4. American Cancer Society. Survival rates for colorectal cancer.

  5. American Cancer Society. Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer.

  6. Ryuk JP, Choi G-S, Park JS, et al. Predictive factors and the prognosis of recurrence of colorectal cancer within 2 years after curative resectionAnnals of Surgical Treatment and Research. 2014;86(3):143-151. doi:10.4174/astr.2014.86.3.143

  7. Ryuk JP, Choi GS, Park JS, et al. Predictive factors and the prognosis of recurrence of colorectal cancer within 2 years after curative resectionAnn Surg Treat Res. 2014;86(3):143-151. doi:10.4174/astr.2014.86.3.143

By Julie Wilkinson, BSN, RN
Julie Wilkinson is a registered nurse and book author who has worked in both palliative care and critical care.