Bowel cancer is a common form of the disease
There are still gaps in bowel cancer surgery care, an audit suggests.
The review of 41,000 cases from 2006 to 2008 showed that too many patients were still not getting access to specialist nurses and the proper tests.
But the audit, led by the NHS Information Centre and specialist bowel cancer surgeons, also showed post-surgery death rates were improving.
Experts welcomed the progress, but urged the NHS in England and Wales to tackle the remaining problems.
Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer and causes about 16,000 deaths a year, predominantly in the over 60s.
While the audit showed death rates within 30 days of surgery had fallen from 7% in 2001 to 4.5%, several weak areas of care were also highlighted.
Just half of patients received support from specialist nurses despite NHS recommendations that all cancer patients should get it.
A quarter of patients were not getting access to specialist scans to check the progress of their disease.
The report also said more should be done to ensure patient cases were properly reviewed by a range of experts.
NHS guidelines demand that radiologists, pathologists, anaesthetists and surgeons are all involved in discussing care, but this only happened in 84% of cases.
However, in all three areas standards had improved slightly since the previous audit.
Paul Finan, who led the review on behalf of the Association of Coloproctology, the specialist group for bowel cancer surgeons, said he was pleased patients were getting better standards of care.
But he added: "It [the report] provides hints to where we need to progress more quickly towards the very best standards and save more lives in the future."
A spokesman for Beating Bowel Cancer said: "There is still a long way to go to reach the consistently high standards of patient care across the UK to be in line with NICE recommendations."
A Department of Health spokeswoman added: "The information from this audit will be useful for local NHS organisations in considering what action may be needed to make further progress."