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Has my cancer spread?

When cancer cells leave the primary tumor (where your cancer originally started) and begin to colonize other tissues or organs in the body, we call this metastatic cancer.

For colorectal cancer, metastases (often called mets) are most often found in the liver and lungs. Metastases can also be found in other areas such as the peritoneum, ovaries, uterus, bladder, lymph nodes — and rarely in the bones and brain. 

Cancer can spread outside the primary tumor in a number of different ways. The two most common ways are through the lymph nodes or through the blood stream.

Lymph system

Cancer cells can spread into the lymph system, which is like a super-highway throughout the body.

Lymphatic fluid is made up of a liquid called lymph, which can be found in your blood and tissues. It keeps all the organs moist! Lymphatic fluid also contains proteins, minerals, fats, nutrients — and cells.

Lymph nodes are bean-shaped glands that monitor and filter lymphatic fluid as it flows through them. These nodes often filter out damaged and cancerous cells.

Lymphatic vessels are a network of tubes that transfer the lymphatic fluid through the tissues. If cancer cells get into the lymph system, they can seed other tumors around the body.

Blood stream

Cancer cells can also get into the blood stream, and travel around the body. Similar to the lymphatic system, cancer cells in the blood stream can cause other tumors around the body.

National Cancer Institute

It’s important to remember that metastatic tumors are the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. If colon cancer spreads to the lungs, the cancer cells in the lungs are still colon cancer cells. If colon cancer spreads to the liver, the liver tumors are still considered colorectal cancer.

Still a bit confused? Here’s a video explaining how cancer spreads:

Have you been diagnosed with metastatic CRC? 

Join one of our COLONTOWN Facebook groups:

  • Our Four Corners group is for stage 4 patients to ask questions, find stories of hope and get support from others with a similar diagnosis.

Want to join? Fill out the registration form here.

COLONTOWN University has so much more to offer, from DocTalk videos with CRC experts to easy-to-understand biomarker test breakdowns. We’re here for you! See our list of Learning Centers here.

Last updated: May 18, 2022

The Basics