Hepatic resection of metastatic colorectal cancer is being performed with increasing frequency. Reports describe wide variations in survival after resection of solitary of multiple metastases. In 23 consecutive patients having major hepatic resection for metachronous metastases from colorectal cancers, 18 patients had one, two, or three metastases and five had four or more individual metastases; the cure rate of one, two, or three metachronous metastases was comparable to reports of resected solitary simultaneous metastases. The median maximum diameter of metastases in patients both surviving and dead was 7 cm. Features separating surviving from dead patients were resection margins of at least 1 cm and fewer than four metastatic nodules. All patients with four or more hepatic metastases died of disease, 80% with further liver metastases. Only three of 18 (17%) patients with one, two, or three metastases developed further hepatic lesions. This study suggests that the biology of the hepatic metastatic disease is paramount; timing of the hepatic resection is of little importance. Delayed resection of suitable biologic situations does not impair survival opportunities, and early resection of inappropriate biologic situations with more than three hepatic metastases does not improve survival. Therefore, programs of early detection with the use of carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) screening or "second look" operations will not increase cure rates.