Death from colorectal cancer frequently results from manifestations of recurrent local or metastatic disease following initial ‘curative’ therapy. Presently, the attempted curative treatment of recurrent colorectal cancer lays in the hands of the surgeon. This paper reviews the natural history of surgically treated large bowel cancer and summarizes published and National Cancer Institute experience with the surgical therapy of recurrent disease. A schema with rationale is offerred for follow-up of the patient following ‘curative’ bowel resection. The treatment of recurrent disease incorporating the use of CEA initiated second-look laparotomy is advocated. Hepatic and pulmonary resections for metastatic disease are accepted as important therapeutic endeavours, and are discussed in some detail.It is concluded that of all patients diagnosed as having large bowel cancer, roughly 70% are resectable for cure at time of presentation, and 45% will indeed be cured by primary resection. Of the 25% who fail primary therapy, approximately 20% (5% of all colorectal cancer patients) can be cured by local re-resection or hepatic or pulmonary resection.