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Is frequent measurement of tumor markers beneficial for postoperative surveillance of colorectal cancer?

PURPOSE: To determine whether frequent measurement of tumor markers triggers early detection of colorectal cancer recurrence.

METHODS: Of 1,651 consecutive patients undergoing colorectal cancer surgery between 2010 and 2016, 1,050 were included. CEA and CA 19-9 were considered to be postoperative tumor markers and were measured every 3 months for 3 years, and then every 6 months for 2 years. Sensitivity analysis of elevated CEA and CA19-9 levels and multivariate analysis of factors associated with elevated CEA and CA19-9 levels were performed. The proportion of triggers for detecting recurrence was determined.

RESULTS: The median follow-up period was 5.3 years. After applying the exclusion criteria, 1,050 patients were analyzed, 176 (16.8%) of whom were found to have recurrence. After excluding patients with persistently elevated CEA and CA19-9 levels before and after surgery from the 176 patients, 71 (43.6%) of 163 patients had elevated CEA levels and 35 (20.2%) of 173 patients had elevated CA19-9 levels. Sensitivity/positive predictive values for elevated CEA and CA19-9 levels at recurrence were 43.6%/32.3% and 20.2%/32.4%, respectively. Lymph node metastasis was a factor associated with both elevated CEA and CA19-9 levels at recurrence. Of the 176 patients, computed tomography triggered the detection of recurrence in 137 (78%) and elevated tumor marker levels in 13 (7%); the diagnostic lead interval in the latter 13 patients was 1.7 months.

CONCLUSION: Tumor marker measurements in surveillance after radical colorectal cancer resection contribute little to early detection, and frequent measurements are unnecessary for stage I patients with low risk of recurrence.

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