Background: Excision of primary colorectal cancer associated with irresectable synchronous metastases confers high morbidity and mortality with uncertain benefit.
Methods: For patients with incurable stage IV colorectal cancer, minimally symptomatic primary tumours were left in situ and 5-fluorouracil-based chemotherapy was administered systemically. Primary tumour-specific complications and survival were monitored.
Results: There were 13 men and 11 women with primary tumours in the right colon (eight), transverse colon (one), sigmoid colon (eight) or rectum (seven). Eleven patients had metastases limited to the liver (liver replacement less than 25 per cent in one, 25-50 per cent in four and more than 50 per cent in six) and 13 patients had extrahepatic disease (lung or peritoneum). Four patients with sigmoid colon tumours developed bowel obstruction, which required an uncomplicated operation in two and deployment of colonic stents in two patients, at 1, 3, 12 and 20 months from diagnosis. Three further patients underwent right hemicolectomy for abdominal pain of uncertain aetiology, with poor symptomatic relief, and another had a potentially curative operation following disease downstaging. The overall median survival was 10.3 months with a 1-year actuarial survival rate of 44 per cent.
Conclusion: A policy to defer resection of minimally symptomatic primary colorectal cancer is associated with a low risk of complications before death from progressive systemic disease.