What Is the Life Expectancy of Untreated Colon Cancer?

If colon cancer is left untreated, it can spread quickly to other regions and cause some people to live shorter lives than others who get treatment. Common treatments include chemotherapy and surgery, which work best in the early stages.

One of the most prevalent cancers in the US is colon cancer. When diagnosed in its early stages by a healthcare practitioner, treatment is available and most successful.

Most colon cancer patients survive at least five years after receiving treatment. The cancer has a higher chance of spreading to other organs, such as your liver or brain, if treatment is not received. The treatment might not work once it reaches far-off places.

Cancer treatment frequently has several negative effects. If the cancer has already spread to distant bodily parts or if prior treatments have not been successful, some people may decide not to get therapy to avoid negative effects. The anticipated survival rate may decrease if treatment is not received.

Colon cancer survival rates

To determine a patient's chances of surviving cancer, doctors frequently utilise the 5-year relative survival rate. The percentage of patients with that particular type of cancer who are expected to survive five years following diagnosis is shown by this statistic.

Between 2013 and 2019, the 5-year relative survival for all stages of colon cancer in the US was 63%.

Put differently, five years after receiving a colon cancer diagnosis, 63 out of 100 individuals still survived.

What is the survival rate of colon cancer without treatment?

In the absence of treatment, colon cancer can spread swiftly. Because of ethical issues, few studies have looked at the rate of progression of untreated colon cancer.

According to a 2020 study, tumours doubled in size after an average of 211 days among 43 colon cancer diagnoses. According to other research, colon tumours can grow in as little as 18 to 2,593 days.

Stage 1 to 3 colon cancer

7,152 patients with potentially curable colon cancer in stages 1 through 3 who choose not to have surgery are the subject of a 2021 study. Those without surgery had a survival rate of less than half, averaging less than 6.8 months, while those who underwent surgery had an average survival rate of 24 months.

Researchers studied the prognosis of 407 adults in their 80s and 90s who had colon cancer that had not yet spread to other parts of their body in a 2020 study. Of these, 275 underwent surgery and 132 received palliative care. Palliative care refers to medical interventions that try to lessen symptoms and extend life, rather than cure cancer.

Overall, the researchers discovered:
  • Those without surgery had a 2-year survival rate of 38.9%, whereas those who underwent surgery had a 2-year survival rate of 78.9%.
  • Individuals without surgery had a 5-year survival rate of 11.3%, while those who underwent surgery had a 5-year survival rate of 59.6%.

Stage 4 cancer

If colon cancer spreads to other bodily organs, it is referred to be metastatic cancer, or stage 4. Treatment for stage 4 cancer is typically palliative since it is not usually thought to be treatable.

In patients with stage 4 colon cancer, palliative care may extend survival by up to 20 months.

What is the survival rate of colon cancer with treatment?

Treatment for colon cancer may increase survival rates or increase time spent alive. The following charts show the 5-year relative survival rates for colon cancer in the US from 2013 to 2019:

StageDescriptionSurvival rate
LocalizedCancer is limited to the colon91%
RegionalCancer has spread to nearby tissues73%
DistantCancer has spread to distant body parts13%
All stagesAll stages combined63%

How is colon cancer treated?

The standard therapies for each stage of colon cancer are listed below.

Stages 1 and 2

Surgical excision and anastomosis are the usual treatments for stage 1 and stage 2 colon cancer. Parts of your colon are removed during resection, and the goal of anastomosis is to join the remaining sections.

Although chemotherapy isn't typically added to the treatment regimen, scientists are now looking at whether it can increase post-operative survival.

Stage 3

Chemotherapy may be used in addition to resection and anastomosis as a treatment for stage 3 colon cancer.

Stage 4 or recurrent cancer treatment

Treatment for stage 4 colon cancer is typically palliative.

Your doctor might now suggest more recent therapies like immunotherapy or targeted therapy.

One alternative to chemotherapy is targeted therapy, which targets particular proteins in cancer cells. If compared to chemotherapy, it can have fewer or different adverse effects. Immunotherapy medications boost your body's defences against cancerous cells by stimulating your immune system.

Treatment options for stage 4 or recurrent colon cancer include the following:
  • surgery to remove tumors
  • surgery to remove specific organ sections, including the ovaries, liver, or lungs
  • As a palliative treatment, chemotherapy or radiation therapy
  • targeted therapy
  • immunotherapy
  • experimental study of novel chemotherapeutic or targeted treatments

What happens if colon cancer is left untreated?

Colon cancer will probably keep becoming worse if treatment is not received. Your essential organs may eventually shut down, which could result in death.

Symptoms of large tumours are more likely to occur and may include:
  • blood in your stool
  • unexplained weight loss
  • nausea and vomiting
  • constipation or diarrhoea
  • fatigue and weakness
  • abdominal pain
Bowel blockage, either partial or whole, can also result from large tumours. A medical emergency known as bowel blockage can result in:
  • severe pain
  • inability to pass gas or stool
  • severe cramping
  • abdominal bloating
  • vomiting
Eventually, the cancer may spread to tissues close to your colon, including blood arteries and lymph nodes. Through these pathways, cancer cells can spread to remote areas of your body, including:
  • liver
  • lungs
  • brain
  • distant lymph nodes
  • the peritoneum, the lining of your abdominal cavity
Distant spread may result in additional symptoms like:
  • jaundice
  • chest pain
  • confusion
  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty breathing
  • other cognitive changes


Can you fight colon cancer naturally?

Colon cancer may be prevented by consuming five or more servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables each day, opting for whole grains over processed grains, and consuming less red and processed meat.

Does colon cancer spread fast?

Once colon cancer has taken hold, the patient's age and general health status, as well as the cellular composition of the tumour, will all play a role in how the cancer progresses. Colon cancer generally progresses slowly, but it is still a dangerous condition that has to be treated right away.

Can you survive colon cancer without chemotherapy?

To estimate survival or relapse following surgery for localised illness, the tumour, node, and metastatic staging system is the primary prognostic indicator. Patients with stage III colon cancer who do not get any postoperative chemotherapy have a 3-year disease-free survival (DFS) of 44% to 52%.


One of the most prevalent cancers in the US is colon cancer. Colon cancer can swiftly spread to other bodily areas if left untreated. In numerous instances, remission is achievable with prompt diagnosis and treatment. Although it is uncommon, stage 4 cancer can potentially go into remission.

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