BACKGROUND: Improvements in surgery, imaging, adjuvant treatment, and management of metastatic disease have led to modification of previous approaches regarding the risk of recurrence and prognosis in colorectal cancer. The aims of this study were to map patterns, risk factors, and the possibility of curative treatment of recurrent colorectal cancer in a multimodal setting. METHODS: This was a cohort study based on the COLOFOL trial population of patients who underwent radical resection of stage II or III colorectal cancer. The medical files of all patients with recurrence within 5 years after resection of the primary tumour were scrutinized. Follow-up time was 5 years after the first recurrence. Primary endpoints were cumulative incidence, site, timing, and risk factors for recurrence, and rate of potentially curative treatment. A secondary endpoint was survival. RESULTS: Of 2442 patients, 471 developed recurrences. The 5-year cumulative incidence was 21.4 (95 per cent c.i. 19.5 to 23.3) per cent. The median time to detection was 1.1 years after surgery and 87.3 per cent were detected within 3 years. Some 98.2 per cent of patients who had potentially curative treatment were assessed by a multidisciplinary tumour board. A total of 47.8 per cent of the recurrences were potentially curatively treated. The 5-year overall survival rate after detection was 32.0 (95 per cent c.i. 27.9 to 36.3) per cent for all patients with recurrence, 58.6 (51.9 to 64.7) per cent in the potentially curatively treated group and 7.7 (4.8 to 11.5) per cent in the palliatively treated group. CONCLUSION: Time to recurrence was similar to previous results, whereas the 21.4 per cent risk of recurrence was somewhat lower. The high proportion of patients who received potentially curative treatment, linked to a 5-year overall survival rate of 58.6 per cent, indicates that it is possible to achieve good results in recurrent colorectal cancer following multidisciplinary assessment.