Follow-up strategies for patients treated for non-metastatic colorectal cancer

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Nov 24;11(11):CD002200. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002200.pub3.


Background: It is common clinical practice to follow patients with colorectal cancer (CRC) for several years following their curative surgery or adjuvant therapy, or both. Despite this widespread practice, there is considerable controversy about how often patients should be seen, what tests should be performed, and whether these varying strategies have any significant impact on patient outcomes. This is the second update of a Cochrane Review first published in 2002 and first updated in 2007.

Objectives: To assess the effects of intensive follow-up for patients with non-metastatic colorectal cancer treated with curative intent.

Search methods: For this update, we searched CENTRAL (2016, Issue 3), MEDLINE (1950 to May 20th, 2016), Embase (1974 to May 20th, 2016), CINAHL (1981 to May 20th, 2016), and Science Citation Index (1900 to May 20th, 2016). We also searched reference lists of articles, and handsearched the Proceedings of the American Society for Radiation Oncology (2011 to 2014). In addition, we searched the following trials registries (May 20th, 2016): and the World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform. We further contacted study authors. No language or publication restrictions were applied to the search strategies.

Selection criteria: We included only randomised controlled trials comparing different follow-up strategies for participants with non-metastatic CRC treated with curative intent.

Data collection and analysis: Two authors independently determined trial eligibility, performed data extraction, and assessed methodological quality.

Main results: We studied 5403 participants enrolled in 15 studies. (We included two new studies in this second update.) Although the studies varied in setting (general practitioner (GP)-led, nurse-led, or surgeon-led) and "intensity" of follow-up, there was very little inconsistency in the results.Overall survival: we found no evidence of a statistical effect with intensive follow-up (hazard ratio (HR) 0.90, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.78 to 1.02; I² = 4%; P = 0.41; high-quality evidence). There were 1098 deaths among 4786 participants enrolled in 12 studies.Colorectal cancer-specific survival: this did not differ with intensive follow-up (HR 0.93, 95% CI 0.78 to 1.12; I² = 0%; P = 0.45; moderate-quality evidence). There were 432 colorectal cancer deaths among 3769 participants enrolled in seven studies.Relapse-free survival: we found no statistical evidence of effect with intensive follow-up (HR 1.03, 95% CI 0.90 to 1.18; I² = 5%; P = 0.39; moderate-quality evidence). There were 1416 relapses among 5253 participants enrolled in 14 studies.Salvage surgery with curative intent: this was more frequent with intensive follow-up (risk ratio (RR) 1.98, 95% CI 1.53 to 2.56; I² = 31%; P = 0.14; high-quality evidence). There were 457 episodes of salvage surgery in 5157 participants enrolled in 13 studies.Interval (symptomatic) recurrences: these were less frequent with intensive follow-up (RR 0.59, 95% CI 0.41 to 0.86; I² = 66%; P = 0.007; moderate-quality evidence). Three hundred and seventy-six interval recurrences were reported in 3933 participants enrolled in seven studies.Intensive follow-up did not appear to affect quality of life, anxiety, nor depression (reported in three studies).Harms from colonoscopies did not differ with intensive follow-up (RR 2.08, 95% CI 0.11 to 40.17; moderate-quality evidence). In two studies, there were seven colonoscopic complications in 2112 colonoscopies.

Authors' conclusions: The results of our review suggest that there is no overall survival benefit for intensifying the follow-up of patients after curative surgery for colorectal cancer. Although more participants were treated with salvage surgery with curative intent in the intensive follow-up group, this was not associated with improved survival. Harms related to intensive follow-up and salvage therapy were not well reported.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Protocols
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Quality of Life
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Salvage Therapy