To review the evidence from clinical trials of follow up of patients after curative resection for colorectal cancer.
Systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials of intensive compared with control follow up.
Main outcome measures
All cause mortality at five years (primary outcome). Rates of recurrence of intraluminal, local, and metastatic disease and metachronous (second colorectal primary) cancers (secondary outcomes).
Five trials, which included 1342 patients, met the inclusion criteria. Intensive follow up was associated with a reduction in all cause mortality (combined risk ratio 0.81, 95% confidence interval 0.70 to 0.94, P=0.007). The effect was most pronounced in the four extramural detection trials that used computed tomography and frequent measurements of serum carcinoembryonic antigen (risk ratio 0.73, 0.60 to 0.89, P=0.002). Intensive follow up was associated with significantly earlier detection of all recurrences (difference in means 8.5 months, 7.6 to 9.4 months, P<0.001) and an increased detection rate for isolated local recurrences (risk ratio 1.61, 1.12 to 2.32, P=0.011).
Intensive follow up after curative resection for colorectal cancer improves survival. Large trials are required to identify which components of intensive follow up are most beneficial.
What is already known on this topic
There is a lack of direct evidence that intensive follow up after initial curative treatment for colorectal cancer leads to increased survival
Guidelines are inconclusive and clinical practice varies widely
What this study adds
The cumulative analysis of available data supports the view that intensive follow up after curative resection for colorectal cancer improves survival
If computed tomography and frequent measurements of serum carcinoembryonic antigen are used during follow up mortality related to cancer is reduced by 9-13%
This survival benefit is partly attributable to the earlier detection of all recurrences, particularly the increased detection of isolated recurrent disease