Background: The clinical benefit of an intensive follow-up protocol in endometrial cancer patients is still uncertain.
Materials and methods: One hundred and thirty-three patients underwent initial abdominal surgery for clinical stage I endometrial cancer between January 1988 and December 1997 and were periodically followed-up until April 1999 or until death. After surgery, 89 patients received postoperative adjuvant treatment. Periodical surveillance included physical examination, vaginal smear and abdominal-pelvic ultrasound every 3-4 months for the first 2 years from surgery, every 6 months for the next 3 years and yearly thereafter. Chest X-ray was performed every 6 months for the first 2 years, every year for the next 3 years and with individually increasing intervals afterwards. An abdominal-pelvic CT scan was carried out yearly for 5 years.
Results: Twenty-four patients (18.0%) developed recurrent disease after a median time of 17.5 months (range, 6-64 months). Five-year actuarial disease-free survival was 81.2% in the whole series, and in detail 94.2% in the subset of patients with FIGO stage Ia grade 1 or 2 endometrioid adenocarcinoma, or stage Ib grade 1 endometrioid adenocarcinoma (low-risk), compared to 76.0 (p = 0.0472) in the subset of patients with stage Ia grade 3 endometrioid adenocarcinoma, stage Ib grade 2 or 3 endometrioid adenocarcinoma, stage equal to or greater than Ic endometrioid adenocarcinoma any grade, and aggressive histologies (high-risk). The site of recurrent disease was local in 6 (25.0%) patients, distant in 17 (70.8%), and local plus distant in 1 (4.2%). Eleven (45.8%) recurrences were symptomatic and 13 (54.2%) were asymptomatic. The median survival after recurrence was 10 months. Survival was longer in patients who relapsed after 17.5 months from initial surgery when compared to those who relapsed earlier (p = 0.02). Conversely, survival after recurrence was not related to patient characteristics at diagnosis, such as FIGO stage, tumor grade, myometrial invasion, histologic type, and lymph node status. It is noteworthy that survival was similar in asymptomatic women, in whom the relapse was occasionally detected by follow-up examinations, and in symptomatic ones.
Conclusion: An intensive surveillance protocol seems to have no significant impact on the outcome of patients with clinical stage I endometrial cancer. Simplified follow-up programs tailored for patient subsets with different recurrence risk are required.