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Clin Colorectal Cancer. 2009 Apr;8(2):88-93.

Long-term survivors of metastatic colorectal cancer treated with systemic chemotherapy alone: a North Central Cancer Treatment Group review of 3811 patients, N0144.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Elm and Carlton Streets, Buffalo, NY 14263, USA.



Although systemic chemotherapy in patients with unresectable metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC) is palliative in nature, some patients experience long-term remission beyond 5 years consequent to treatment with chemotherapy alone.


We reviewed clinical data from 32 prospective North Central Cancer Treatment Group chemotherapy trials in mCRC that enrolled patients from 1972 to 1995. Metastatic CRC was verified histologically. Excluded from analyses were patients who withdrew consent to the study, enrolled in > 1 study, were ineligible, or had major protocol violations. We defined patients with survival beyond 5 years from the initiation of systemic treatment of mCRC as long-term survivors (LTS).


A total of 36 of 3407 (1.1%) patients were LTS. A total of 13 patients (0.4%) are without evidence of disease or disease progression > 5 years from cessation of last chemotherapy, with a median follow-up of 10.6 years (minimum, 7.6 years). Long-term survivors were more likely to have received 5-fluorouracil (5-FU)-based treatment (33 of 2503 [1.3%]) as opposed to other, less effective therapy (3 of 904 [0.3%]), suggesting that the chemotherapy played an important role among LTS (P = .01). Clinical characteristics of LTS were similar to the overall population in terms of age, sex, performance status, and tumor grade.


This study establishes a baseline for long-term outcomes of mCRC in the era when effective treatment was limited to 5-FU. With the development of improved systemic therapy for mCRC, cure without salvage surgery might be possible for a small, but important number of patients. Clinical trials should follow patients for > 5 years to document the long-term outcomes.

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