What is metastatic colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer happens when cells that are not normal grow in the colon or rectum. These cells form polyps that over time become cancer. Other names for this type of cancer are colon cancer and rectal or rectum cancer.

Metastatic cancer spreads from one part of the body to another. When colorectal cancer spreads, it most often goes into the liver. It can also go into the lungs, bones or other parts of the body. Metastatic colorectal cancer can return after treatment.

Common related conditions
Colorectal Cancer Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumor Colorectal Adenocarcinoma

Causes of metastatic colorectal cancer

Doctors do not know what causes this type of cancer. It is less likely to spread if they find it early.

Risk factors for metastatic colorectal cancer

Whether colorectal cancer will turn into metastatic colorectal cancer depends on how much the cancer has spread and whether the treatments work.

Symptoms of metastatic colorectal cancer

Signs of this cancer can include:

  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Stools that are thinner than usual
  • Stools that are very dark
  • Stools that contain blood
  • Fatigue
  • Low appetite
  • Weight loss that is not due to other causes
  • Gas pains or stomach cramps

With this type of cancer, patients may also have other symptoms. These depend on where else the cancer is in the body.

Diagnosis of metastatic colorectal cancer

Tests to look for this type of cancer include:

  • Blood test
  • Colonoscopy
  • Ultrasound
  • X-ray, CT scan, MRI or PET scan
  • Biopsy

Treatments for metastatic colorectal cancer

Treatments for this type of cancer can include:

  • Chemotherapy — you take drugs either in pill form or through a blood vein to kill cancer in the body.
  • Radiation therapy — high-energy rays attack the cancer.
  • Surgery — the doctor takes out part of the colon; this may involve a colostomy, an opening in the side of the body for solid waste removal.
  • Clinical trials — some people who have cancer try experimental treatments.

Some doctors recommend genetic tests for people who have this type of cancer. These tests can help to determine which drugs might be work.

Recovery from metastatic colorectal cancer

Doctors cannot always cure this type of cancer. Treatment may help to slow the spread of the cancer or ease the symptoms. This type of cancer can also come back after treatment. There is no sure way to prevent this.

Exercise, healthy eating and not smoking may help to avoid it. You should visit your doctor regularly for checkups and to see if the cancer has come back.

Find a colorectal cancer specialist nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you