BACKGROUND: After potentially curative resection of primary colorectal cancer, patients may be monitored by measurement of carcinoembryonic antigen and/or CT to detect asymptomatic metastatic disease earlier.
METHODS: A systematic review and meta-analysis was conducted to find evidence for the clinical effectiveness of monitoring in advancing the diagnosis of recurrence and its effect on survival. MEDLINE (Ovid), Embase, the Cochrane Library, Web of Science and other databases were searched for randomized comparisons of increased intensity monitoring compared with a contemporary standard policy after resection of primary colorectal cancer.
RESULTS: There were 16 randomized comparisons, 11 with published survival data. More intensive monitoring advanced the diagnosis of recurrence by a median of 10 (i.q.r. 5-24) months. In ten of 11 studies the authors reported no demonstrable difference in overall survival. Seven RCTs, published from 1995 to 2016, randomly assigned 3325 patients to a monitoring protocol made more intensive by introducing new methods or increasing the frequency of existing follow-up protocols versus less invasive monitoring. No detectable difference in overall survival was associated with more intensive monitoring protocols (hazard ratio 0·98, 95 per cent c.i. 0·87 to 1·11).
CONCLUSION: Based on pooled data from randomized trials published from 1995 to 2016, the anticipated survival benefit from surgical treatment resulting from earlier detection of metastases has not been achieved.
An important meta-analysis, providing further evidence that current methods of more intensive followup after resection of colorectal cancer do not lead to improved survival rates. It would have been helpful if the authors had been able to separate results for rectal vs colon primary sites, but the trials did not allow this. Whether this study will lead to reduction of non-systematic, unnecessary and costly intensive followup protocols remains to be seen.