What Is the Life Expectancy of Someone With Stage 3 Colon Cancer?

If you have received a diagnosis of colon cancer, no matter what stage, it does not have to mean a death sentence. Patients diagnosed with even stage 3 cancer can live for years after diagnosis. The important factors that determine life expectancy are the stage, grade and characteristics of the illness, your age, your general overall health and your treatment plan.

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Life Expectancy

Life expectancy especially in terms of a serious illness or condition can be very difficult to determine. To determine life expectancy for those with cancer is even more difficult, as tumors from person to person are different. Therefore, life expectancy is usually discussed as survival rates, the percentage of people who live for a specified period of time after diagnosis and treatment.

Stage 3

Colon cancer, also referred to as colorectal cancer, is the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells in the lining of the colon. The colon is part of the large intestine which also includes the rectum and the appendix. Stage 3 colon cancer as described by the American Cancer Society is broken down into three sub-stages. Stage 3a is when the cancer has grown into the submucosa of the lining and has spread to up to 3 lymph nodes. Stage 3b is when the cancer has grown into the outermost layers of the wall of the colon and may have reached nearby organs. Again, this stage is also marked by the cancer spreading to the lymph nodes. Stage 3c is when the cancer has spread to at least 4 lymph nodes.

Stage 3 Symptoms

Colon cancer that has reached stage 3 will likely induce symptoms that you can detect. This includes pain in the lower abdomen area, cramps, difficult bowel movements, nausea and extreme fatigue. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should consult your doctor. Anyone over 50 should be screened for colon cancer, even in the absence of symptoms. Stages 0, 1 and 2 may not have symptoms that you can detect, and the best way to catch the cancer early is through screening tests. These tests may include a fecal occult blood test, which can detect blood in the stool, or a colonoscopy, in which the doctor can visually see the inside of the colon to determine the colon health. Studies have shown that a fecal occult blood test can reduce the mortality rate from colon cancer by 33 percent.


Diagnosis begins with a physical exam and discussion of your symptoms with your doctor. If colon cancer is suspected, the doctor will follow up with diagnostic tests, including blood tests, a colonoscopy and a biopsy, during which a tissue sample taken during the colonoscopy is looked at under the microscope to determine the presence of cancer cells.

Survival Rates

Doctors and researchers typically determine 5-year survival rates for cancer patients; this is the percentage of patients who live at least 5 years after their diagnosis. These rates should only be used as a general guide. There are many factors that affect your survival, including your tumor size and characteristics, your health, your treatment plan and your outlook on life. As discussed above, stage 3 colon cancer has 3 sub-stages. According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rate for each stage is different. For stage 3a, you have an 83 percent chance of surviving at least 5 years. For stage 3b you have a 64 percent chance of surviving at least 5 years. For the most severe case of stage 3, stage 3c, the survival rate is 44 percent. Please consult your doctor for your specific case and to determine the best course of treatment and your specific prognosis or outcome.