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Colorectal Cancer, Metastatic or Recurrent - Topic Overview

This topic is about colorectal cancer that has spread or come back. If you want to learn more about early-stage colorectal cancer, see the topic Colorectal Cancer.

Colorectal cancer happens when cells that are not normal grow in your colon or rectum camera.gif. These cells grow together and form polyps. Over time, some polyps can turn into cancer. This cancer is also called colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where the cancer is.

Metastatic cancer is cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. When colon or rectal cancer spreads, it most often spreads to the liver. Sometimes it spreads to the lungs, bones, or other organs in the body.

Colon and rectal cancers often return months or years after treatment. This is called recurrent cancer. If the original cancer was removed before it was able to spread, the chances that it will return are lower.

Doctors don't know the exact cause. But the cancer is more likely to spread or come back if it is in a later, more advanced stage when it is first discovered.

Sometimes cancer cells are too small to be found by tests. These cells may continue to grow and show up later as metastatic cancer, even years after treatment.

The most common symptoms are:

  • A change in your bowel habits, such as more frequent stools, thinner stools, or a feeling that your bowels are not emptying completely.
  • Blood in your stool or very dark stools.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Belly pain, especially gas pains, cramps, or a feeling of fullness.
  • Losing weight without trying.
  • Constant tiredness (fatigue).

Some people don't have any symptoms.

If your cancer has spread, you may have other symptoms, depending on where the cancer is.

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