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What is advanced bowel cancer?

Advanced bowel cancer is cancer that has spread from the back passage (rectum) and large intestines (colon) to other parts of the body, such as the liver.

Sometimes cancer is advanced when it is first diagnosed. Or the cancer has come back and spread after treatment for the original cancer.

Cancers that have spread to another part of the body are called:

  • secondary cancer
  • metastases
  • metastatic cancer

Where bowel cancer spreads

Bowel cancer can spread to the:

  • liver
  • lungs
  • lymph nodes
  • tissue lining the tummy (peritoneum)
Diagram showing the most common sites for bowel cancer to spread to

Locally advanced cancer

Locally advanced cancer means that the cancer has spread into the tissues around the bowel. It hasn’t spread to other organs. This is different to an advanced cancer. 

How you might feel

Finding out you have an advanced cancer can be a shock. It’s normal to feel uncertain and anxious and to not be able to think about anything else.

Lots of information and support is available to you and your family and friends. It can help to find out more about your cancer and the treatments you might have. Many people find that knowing more about their situation can make it easier to cope.

Talk to your specialist to understand:

  • what your diagnosis means
  • what is likely to happen
  • what treatment is available
  • how treatment can help you


Many people want to know what the outlook is and how their cancer will develop. This is different for each person. Your cancer specialist has all the information about you and your cancer. They're the best person to discuss this with.

You can also talk to your specialist nurse.

For information and support, you can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on 0808 800 4040, from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Can doctors cure advanced cancer?

Treatment for advanced bowel cancer can keep it under control, relieve symptoms and give you a good quality of life.

In a few people with advanced bowel cancer, treatment can control the cancer for a long time. And for a small number of these people, a cure might be possible. This is usually only possible if your cancer has spread to just one other body part and the surgeon can completely remove this, as well as the cancer in your bowel. 

Last reviewed: 
07 Sep 2018
  • Metastatic colorectal cancer
    ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up

    E van Cutsem and others
    Annals of Oncology 2014 Vol 25 (suppl 3): iii1-iii9

  • Colorectal cancer: the diagnosis and management of colorectal cancer
    The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence, November 2011