A simplified plan for follow-up of patients with colon and rectal cancer supported by prospective studies of laboratory and radiologic test results

Surgery. 1987 Jul;102(1):79-87.


Reports of prolonged survival in patients with recurrent colon or rectal cancer following a reoperative surgery suggest that early diagnosis of locally persistent or limited metastatic disease may save some patients. To determine which laboratory and radiologic tests were useful, a prospective comparison of all currently available modalities was begun in 1978. Sixty-six patients at high risk for recurrent large-bowel cancer were studied. At present, mean follow-up is at 4 1/2 years. Protocol studies included monthly carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) assays for 3 years and then at 3-month intervals for 2 more years. A review of symptoms and a physical examination were performed every 4 months for 3 years and then every 6 months for 2 more years. Computerized tomograms of the abdomen, full lung tomograms, and liver/spleen scintigrams were obtained every 4 months for 3 years and then annually for 2 more years. Intravenous pyelography, barium enema, and bone scintigraphy were performed yearly for 5 years. Thirty-three recurrences were observed in 31 patients. A progressive rise in serial CEA values was the first indication of recurrence in 22 of 33 patients (67%), review of symptoms and physical examination in seven of 33 (21%), CT scan in two of 33, and bone scintigraphy and full lung tomography each in one of 33 patients. Serial CEA assays and routine visits to a physician's office were the most useful tests in this study population. Use of a simplified follow-up plan will result in the earliest detection of recurrent colon cancer.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bone and Bones / diagnostic imaging
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen / analysis
  • Colonic Neoplasms*
  • Follow-Up Studies*
  • Humans
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / diagnosis
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / diagnosis
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Radiography, Abdominal
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Rectal Neoplasms*
  • Time Factors
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen