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Ann Surg. 1985 Sep;202(3):310-7.

CEA-directed second-look surgery in the asymptomatic patient after primary resection of colorectal carcinoma.


Since 1971, serial carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) levels have been measured to monitor patients after primary resection of colorectal cancer. Based solely on a rise in CEA level above the baseline established after primary resection, 146 patients were readmitted to the hospital. Chest films, liver-spleen scan, colonoscopy, bone scan, abdominal and pelvic CAT scan, and hepatic arteriograms were performed, and elevated CEA levels were confirmed before reexploration was undertaken. In the 146 patients, 139 (95%) had recurrences, and 81 (58%) of these were resectable for potential cure. Two of the first 22 patients re-explored between 1971 and 1975 are still living 11 and 14 years after second look; of 45 patients reoperated upon from 1976 through 1979 and followed for at least 5 years, 14 (31%) are still living. A rise in CEA above the baseline established after primary resection proved to be a sensitive indicator of recurrence and prompted reexploration before symptoms developed. Early alternative therapy was begun in patients with unresectable recurrences.

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