PURPOSE: This prospective, randomized, single-center study was designed to evaluate the influence of follow-up on detection and resectability of local recurrences and on survival after radical surgery for colorectal cancer. METHODS: Between 1987 and 1990, 207 consecutive patients who underwent curative resections for primary untreated large-bowel carcinoma were randomly assigned to a conventional follow-up group (Group A; n = 103) and to an intense follow-up group (Group B; n = 104). All the patients were followed up prospectively, and the outcome was known for all of them at five years. Patients in Group A were seen at six-month intervals for one year, and once a year thereafter. Patients in Group B were checked every three months during the first two years, at six-month intervals for the next three years, and once a year thereafter. RESULTS: Of the 103 patients in Group A, local recurrence was detected in 20; 9 (13 percent) of these patients had colon cancer, and 11 (29 percent) had rectal cancer. Of the 104 patients in Group B, local recurrence was detected in 26; 12 (16 percent) of these patients had colon cancer, and 14 (45 percent) had rectal cancer. Twelve cases (60 percent) of local recurrence in Group A and 24 cases (92 percent) in Group B were detected at scheduled visits (P < 0.05). Local recurrences were detected earlier in patients of Group B (10.3 +/- 2.7 vs. 20.2 +/- 6.1 months; P < 0.0003). Curative re-resection was possible in 2 patients (10 percent) in Group A, 1 with colon cancer and 1 with rectal cancer, and in 17 patients (65 percent) in Group B, 6 with colon cancer and 11 with rectal cancer (P < 0.01). Of the Group B patients who had curative re-resections of local recurrence, 8 (47 percent) were disease-free and long-term survivors as of the last follow-up, and 2 (11.7 percent) were alive, but with a new recurrence. The 2 patients in Group A who had curative re-resections died as a result of cancer. The five-year survival rate in Group A was 58.3 percent and in Group B was 73.1 percent. The difference is statistically significant (P < 0.02). CONCLUSIONS: Our data support use of an intense follow-up plan after primary resection of large-bowel cancer, at least in patients with rectal cancer.
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