Aim The incidence, patterns of care and survival were determined in patients with stage IV colorectal cancer (CRC) in a population-based series. Method Computer records for patients diagnosed with stage IV CRC diagnosed from 1 January 1995 to 31 December 2007 were retrieved from the Rotterdam Cancer Registry. Surgical resection of the primary tumour, chemotherapy use, hepatic surgery and survival were evaluated according to year of diagnosis, age, gender and primary tumour site. Results In the southwestern part of the Netherlands, 19 014 new patients with CRC were diagnosed and synchronous metastatic disease was found in 3482 (18%). This proportion increased during the study period, from 16% to 21%. Surgical resection of the primary tumour was performed in approximately 50% of the patients and did not change over time. Postoperative 30-day mortality was 8%. Chemotherapy use increased from 18% in the first period to 56% in the latest period. Liver surgery increased from Conclusion Survival of patients with stage IV CRC has improved over time and this is probably a result of the increased use of chemotherapy and the increased numbers of patients who underwent hepatic surgery.