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Types of bowel cancer

Find out about different types of bowel cancer.

Types of bowel cancer

Bowel cancer can start in the large bowel (colon) or the back passage (rectum). It is also divided into different types depending on the type of cell that your cancer started in. Knowing this helps your doctor decide which treatment you need. 


Adenocarcinomas start in the gland cells in the lining of the bowel wall. The gland cells normally produce mucus. This is a slimy substance that makes it easier for the poo (also called faeces or stool) to pass through the bowel. Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of bowel cancer. 

There are 2 rare types of adenocarcinoma:

  • mucinous tumours 
  • signet ring tumours  

They are treated in the same way as the most common types of adenocarcinoma of the bowel.

Rare types of bowel cancer

Squamous cell tumours 

Squamous cells are the skin cells that make up the bowel lining, together with the gland cells. They are treated in the same way as cancer of the anus. 

Carcinoid tumours 

Carcinoid is a type of slow growing tumour called a neuroendocrine tumour. They grow in hormone producing tissue, usually in the digestive system. 

Carcinoid is treated differently to the most common types of bowel cancer. 


Sarcomas are cancers of the supporting cells of the body, such as bone or muscle. Most sarcomas in the bowel are called leiomyosarcomas. This means they are sarcomas that started in smooth muscle. 

Sarcomas are treated differently to adenocarcinomas of the bowel. 


Lymphomas are cancers of the lymphatic system. They are treated very differently to other bowel cancers. 

Last reviewed: 
25 Aug 2015
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    Springer, 2010

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    Wolters Kluwer Health, 2015

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