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Colon Cancer Metastasis Sites: Which Organs Are Most Effected?

Medically reviewed by Mae Charisse Antalan, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Mar 18, 2023

Colon Cancer Metastasis Sites: Which Organs Are Most Effected?

The stage of your colon cancer will be determined by tests your doctor will order to make a diagnosis. Stage 4 indicates that the disease has spread past your colon. It’s possible that the liver, lungs, or other organs have cancerous cells. Knowing colon cancer metastasis sites and where it has spread will make it easier to determine the best treatment that will work for you. The sooner you get checked out, the better; and let your doctor know if you experience any symptoms.

What Happens When Colon Cancer Metastasizes? 

Tumors can be benign, meaning they do not spread, or malignant, meaning they can invade surrounding tissues. 

In the case of colon cancer, malignant cells develop in the lining of the intestine or rectum. Cancers are abnormal growths of tissue that form due to changes in the genetic material of cells. The normal cell cycle can occasionally be disrupted, and this can lead to abnormal or rapid replication.

It is referred to as metastatic colorectal cancer if these cells separate and spread to another area of the body through the lymphatic system or blood. Doctors classify cancer into stages that describe the disease’s progression. The staging system enables them to determine a patient’s prognosis and the most effective treatment options.

Stages of Colon Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the earliest stage is Stage 0 (a very early cancer), followed by stages 1-4. The lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. In stage 3 colorectal cancer, the malignant cells have spread to nearby lymph nodes but have not yet spread to other areas. A person is at stage 4 if their colorectal cancer has metastasized beyond the lymph nodes.

It can also spread to the lungs, brain, lining of the abdominal cavity, distant lymph nodes, and liver. Metastatic colorectal cancer frequently spreads to the liver, which may be because the liver receives the majority of its blood supply from the portal vein, a large blood vessel that carries blood from the intestines and spleen.


Many colon cancer patients don’t exhibit any symptoms, making frequent screening tests so crucial. Symptoms of the condition, at any stage, may include any or all of the following:

  • Blood in the stool, generally in a dark red or black color
  • Both diarrhea and constipation. These could also be signs of less severe disorders. However, if they continue, visit a doctor.
  • Pencil-like, long, thin stools. These indicate that your colon is being obstructed by something. A tumor or another object might be the obstruction.
  • Weakness and exhaustion. A tumor that is bleeding and iron loss might both make you feel considerably more exhausted or weak than normal.
  • Bloating or soreness in the abdomen. Blockages brought on by colon tumors might make it challenging to completely empty your bowels. As a result, you can feel bloated and full.
  • Unaccounted-for weight loss If you lose 10 pounds or more without changing your diet or exercise routine, it may be cancer, especially if you also exhibit other signs of colon cancer.
  • Nausea and vomiting, which could occur if the tumor blocks the airflow.

Depending on where the disease has progressed, you may have other symptoms.

Twenty percent of Americans who are diagnosed with colon cancer later discover that it has spread to other regions of their bodies (colon cancer metastasis sites). Through the circulation and lymph nodes, cancer can potentially “locally” spread. The liver, lungs, and the peritoneum are where colon cancer most frequently metastasizes (the lining of the abdomen). The bones and other organs might potentially be affected by this malignancy.

More on Common Colon Cancer Metastasis Sites


The liver generates bile, a fluid required in digestion, and eliminates poisonous chemicals from the body. Through a blood artery that links the liver and intestines, colon cancer can move to the liver.

Many patients who have colon cancer in their livers first show no signs. If they do have symptoms, they could be hazy and consist of:

  • Appetite loss or feeling full too soon
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Itching
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • The legs swelling
  • Loss of weight
  • Jaundice or a yellowing of the skin or eye whites


Cancer may spread from other organs, like the colon, to the lungs because they get blood from the rest of the body. Breathing is frequently impacted when cancer has progressed to the lungs.

These signs include: 

  • Coughing that won’t stop
  • Chest pain
  • Mucus with blood in it
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of weight


The lining of the abdomen might become infected with cancerous cells that break off from the primary tumor.

These signs include:

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Reduced appetite
  • Weight gain or weight loss


The bones may become weakened and start to leak calcium when colon cancer spreads to them.

These signs include:

  • A bone ache
  • Due to excessive blood calcium levels, you may have diarrhea, nausea, and appetite loss
  • Bone fractures
  • Legs and maybe the arms experience numbness or weakness
  • Back and/or neck pain


Doctors may need to use a variety of tests to detect and locate metastatic colorectal cancer. Once they have established the presence of cancer and the affected colon cancer metastasis sites, they can provide a treatment plan. 

A colonoscopy is the primary test to diagnose colorectal cancer. If the doctor has a suspicion that the patient has the disease, they may take a tissue sample during the colonoscopy procedure. The biopsy tissue sample is then tested in a lab and its unique characteristics are examined to help guide treatment. Finally, doctors use imaging tests to determine the colon cancer metastasis sites. 

These imaging procedures may be used by doctors:

  • CT. A cross-sectional image of a person’s body is produced by a CT or CAT scan using X-rays. When cancer has spread to neighboring lymph nodes or other organs, it can be detected.
  • Ultrasound. To determine whether cancer has migrated to the liver, doctors may do an ultrasound exam. Additionally, a biopsy can be performed under ultrasound supervision.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In order to determine whether lymph nodes are implicated or whether cancer has migrated to the pelvis or abdomen, doctors may use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
  • X-ray. Chest X-rays are used by doctors to determine whether colon cancer has spread to the lungs. Any bone metastases can also be seen.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan. Medical professionals may use these scans to check for cancer in the brain as well as other parts of the body. These scans can also aid in the planning of any surgery and medical care.


The location of the tumors and the extent of the cancer’s spread may affect the best course of treatment for a patient with metastatic colorectal cancer. In addition, doctors take into account the patient’s age, overall health, and any potential adverse effects of any treatment.

Patients with colorectal cancer may experiment with several therapies either in tandem or sequentially. The following techniques are employed by doctors to treat colorectal cancer:

  • Chemotherapy. If surgery is not an option, doctors may turn to chemotherapy. Chemotherapy drugs are strong drugs that either kill cancer cells or stop them from proliferating.
  • Hepatic artery infusion chemotherapy (HAIC). Regional chemotherapy known as hepatic artery infusion chemotherapy (HAIC) may be used if colorectal cancer has progressed to the liver, one of the common colon cancer metastasis sites. It entails injecting chemotherapy medications into the hepatic artery of the liver. 
  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is not frequently used by doctors to treat colon cancer. However, they might employ it before surgery to reduce tumors, to relieve a patient’s symptoms, or in conjunction with chemotherapy to help manage cancer.
  • Surgery. Surgery might not be an option if cancer has spread significantly. However, if a person has one or two minor liver lesions, surgery can be an option.
  • Other systemic therapies. In addition to immunotherapy and biologic treatment, physicians may also prescribe other targeted treatments.

A doctor may also recommend clinical trials, which are research studies that look into new therapies that might be helpful for someone with metastatic colorectal cancer. Although treatment options for people with this type of cancer have significantly improved over the past few decades, it’s important to remember that results can still differ greatly among those with advanced disease.

Preparation and getting assistance

Find out from your doctor how the size and location of your tumor affect your case. If you want to learn more about colon cancer and how it affects your body once it spreads to the common colon cancer metastasis sites, consult your doctor. 

Learn more about Colorectal Cancer here


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Mae Charisse Antalan, MD

General Practitioner

Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Mar 18, 2023

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