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Types of bowel cancer

Men and women discussing bowel cancer

This page tells you about the different types of bowel (colorectal) cancer. You can find information about small bowel cancer in our questions and answers section. On this page there is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Types of bowel cancer

There are several different types of bowel cancer. They are named after the type of cell that they start from.

Adenocarcinomas

More than 95 out of every 100 colorectal cancers diagnosed (95%) are adenocarcinomas. This means the cancer started in the gland cells in the lining of the bowel. You may hear your doctor talking about a mucinous tumour or a signet ring tumour. These are rare types of adenocarcinoma and refer to how the cells look under the microscope.

Squamous cell cancers

Squamous cells are the skin like cells that make up the bowel lining, together with the gland cells. This type of bowel cancer is rare. They are treated the same way as anal cancers.

Other bowel tumours

Carcinoid is an unusual type of slow growing tumour called a neuroendocrine tumour. These tumours grow in hormone producing tissue and are treated differently to colorectal cancer. There is a section about carcinoid tumours.

Sarcomas are cancers of the supporting cells of the body, such as bone or muscle. Most sarcomas in the colon or rectum are leiomyosarcomas. This means they started in smooth muscle. Sarcomas are treated differently to adenocarcinomas of the bowel or rectum. There is a separate section about soft tissue sarcomas.

Lymphomas are cancers of the lymphatic system. Only about 1 in 100 colorectal cancers (1%) are lymphomas. They are treated very differently to other colorectal cancers. For more information about the treatment of lymphoma, look at the non Hodgkin lymphoma section

 

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Adenocarcinomas

Bowel cancer, or colorectal cancer, includes cancers of the large bowel (colon) and back passage (rectum).  More than 95 out of every 100 bowel cancers diagnosed (95%) are adenocarcinomas. This means that the cancer started in the gland cells in the lining of the bowel wall. The gland cells normally produce mucus. Mucus is a slimy substance that makes it easier for the stool to pass through the bowel. When doctors talk about bowel cancer, this is usually the type they are referring to.

There are a couple of rare types of adenocarcinoma of the colon and rectum. They are called mucinous tumours and signet ring tumours. These terms refer to how the cells look under the microscope.

Mucinous tumours often have the cancer cells in pools of mucus. Signet ring tumours have mucus inside the cells. The mucus pushes the control centre of the cell (the nucleus) over to one side, which gives the tumour cell a signet ring shape under the microscope. Only about 1 or 2 out of every 100 bowel cancers (1 to 2%) are the signet ring type. They are treated the same way as other adenocarcinomas of the colon or rectum.

 

Squamous cell cancers

Squamous cells are the skin like cells that make up the bowel lining, together with the gland cells. This type of bowel cancer is rare. They are treated in the same way as anal cancers.

 

Carcinoid tumours

Carcinoid is an unusual type of slow growing tumour called a neuroendocrine tumour. These are cancers that grow in hormone producing tissues, usually in the digestive system. They are rare. Between 4 and 17 out of every 100 carcinoid tumours diagnosed (4 to 17%) start in the rectum. Between 2 and 7 out of every 100 carcinoid tumours diagnosed (2 to 7%) begin in the large bowel.

Carcinoid behaves and is treated differently to colorectal cancer. We have a section about carcinoid tumours.

 

Sarcomas

Sarcomas are cancers of the supporting cells of the body, such as bone or muscle. Most sarcomas found in the colon or rectum are leiomyosarcomas. This means they are cancers that started in smooth muscle. Sarcomas are treated differently to adenocarcinomas of the bowel or rectum. There is a whole section about soft tissue sarcomas.

 

Lymphomas

Lymphomas are cancers of the lymphatic system. Only about 1 in 100 cancers diagnosed in the colon or rectum (1%) are lymphomas. They are treated very differently to other colorectal cancers. For information about the treatment of lymphoma, look at the non Hodgkin lymphoma section.

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Updated: 7 August 2013