Hepatic metastases occur in 60% of patients following resection for colorectal cancer. Liver resection is the only curative option, with one third of resected patients alive at five years. In those developing recurrence in the liver following resection, further liver surgery may be curative, with similar 5 years survival rates of about 30%. Until recently surgery was feasible in only 15–25% of patients with colorectal liver metastases. New strategies, such as downstaging chemotherapy, portal vein embolization and two-stage hepatectomy, may increase the resectability rate by 15%.
Earlier detection of liver metastases would increase resectability, although good follow-up trials are lacking. Once suspected, colorectal liver metastases are staged by spiral CT, CT portography and MRI, which have similar overall accuracies.
Mortality following liver resection is less than 5% in major centres, with a morbidity rate of 20% to 50%. Prognostic scoring systems can be used to predict the likely cure rate with resection.
Pulmonary metastases occur in 10–25% of patients with resected colorectal cancer, but are limited to the lung in only 2% of cases. In these selected cases surgery provides long-term survival in 20–40%, and repeat lung resection has shown similar rates.
For patients with unresectable disease, chemotherapy and ablation techniques have been demonstrated to prolong survival, although chemotherapy alone has been shown to improve quality of life.