Rectal Cancer Recurrence Statistics

How Often Does Rectal Cancer Recur?

Colon Cancer Screening
Colon Cancer Screening. Getty Images / Handout / Getty Images

In general, the outlook for patients diagnosed and treated for colorectal cancer has been improving in recent years, due in part to medical and surgical advances as well as effective screening. However, any patient treated for rectal cancer is, understandably, concerned about recurrence.

Rectal cancer tends to have a higher recurrence rate as compared to other types of cancers. In fact, just under half of all colorectal cancer patients will develop recurrent disease.

 In particular, rectal tumors that have high microvessel density (a bunch of tiny blood vessels) are more likely to recur or spread. 

Overall Rectal Cancer Recurrence Rates

According to a study published in the British Journal of Surgery, approximately 23-percent of rectal cancer patients experienced a recurrence within five years. Researchers obtained this data by analyzing the recurrence rates of approximately 680 French cancer patients who had received treatment for rectal cancer between 1976 and 1995. However, other studies have shown that rectal cancer recurrence rates can vary from 4-percent to 55-percent.

Impact of Tumor Size on Recurrence Statistics

The same study mentioned above determined that the chances rectal cancer will return within five years of treatment are 11-percent for an original tumor smaller than 3 centimeters (cm) and 28-percent for an original tumor larger than 3 cm.

It would appear that the size of the original cancerous tumor has some effect on a person's risk of recurrence.

Impact of Cancer Stage on Recurrence Statistics

When the French researchers examined the impact of cancer stage on rectal cancer recurrence, they confirmed that more advanced rectal cancer was more likely to recur.

During a five-year period, the rectal cancer recurrence rates for each stage were as follows:

  • 10-percent for stage 1 rectal cancer
  • 24-percent for stage 2 rectal cancer
  • 41-percent for stage 3 rectal cancer

With a difference of 31 percentage points between rates of recurrence for stage 1 rectal cancer and stage 4 rectal cancer, it is clear that the more advanced stages pose a greater risk for recurrence.

Impact of Hospital Choice on Recurrence Statistics

When researchers analyzed data from approximately 3,400 Norwegian rectal cancer patients, surprisingly, they found that which hospital the patients chose significantly impacted their rectal cancer recurrence rates. Specifically, patients who were treated at hospitals that had performed fewer than 10 rectal cancer surgeries annually were more likely to have a recurrence in five years than patients who were treated at hospitals that had performed 30 or more rectal cancer surgeries a year.

What This Means for You

Though the high rate of recurrence of rectal cancers only adds to the fear of the disease, what these study results suggest is that regular screenings, early detection, and skilled cancer care may be some of the most important factors in successfully treating rectal cancer.


Be sure that you're getting regularly screened for colorectal cancer after reaching age 50, or sooner if you are considered at increased or higher risk due to personal or family history.


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Manfredi, S. and Benhamiche, A. "Population-Based Study of Factors Influencing Occurrence and Prognosis of Local Recurrence after Surgery for Rectal Cancer." British Journal of Surgery 88.9 (Nov. 2002): 1221-1227. Wiley InterScience. 21 Aug. 2006.

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