The management of the primary tumor in metastatic colorectal, gastric and pancreatic cancer patients may be challenging. Indeed, primary tumor progression could be associated with severe symptoms, compromising the quality of life and the feasibility of effective systemic therapy, and might result in life-threatening complications. While retrospective series have suggested that surgery on the primary tumor may confer a survival advantage even in asymptomatic patients, randomized trials seem not to definitively support this hypothesis. We discuss the evidence for and against primary tumor resection for patients with metastatic gastrointestinal (colorectal, gastric and pancreatic) cancers treated with systemic therapies and put in context the pros and cons of the onco-surgical approach in the time of precision oncology. We also evaluate current ongoing trials on this topic, anticipating how these will influence both research and everyday practice.
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