BACKGROUND: Currently, resection criteria for colorectal cancer liver metastases (CRCLM) are only limited by remnant liver function. Morbidity and survival after a partial hepatectomy with limited or extended indication criteria were compared. METHODS/DESIGN: Between 1991 and 2010, patients undergoing a liver resection for CRCLM with limited (n = 169) or extended indication criteria (n = 129) were retrospectively identified in a prospectively collected single-centre database. Limited indication criteria were defined as less than three unilateral, not centrally located liver metastases in the absence of extra hepatic metastases. The extended criteria were only limited by predicted remnant liver volume and patients fitness. Data on co-morbidity, resection margin, short- and long-term morbidity, disease-free (DFS) and overall survival were compared. RESULTS: Patients with limited indications had less major complications (19.5% vs. 33.1%, P < 0.01), longer overall survival of 68.8 months [confidence interval (CI) 46.5-91.1] vs. 41.4 months (CI 33.4-49.0, P </= 0.001) and longer median DFS of 22.0 months [confidence interval (CI) 15.8-28.2] vs 10.2 months (CI 8.4-11.9, P < 0.001) compared with the extended indication group. Cure rates, defined as 10-year DFS, were 35.5% and 15.8%, respectively. Fewer patients in the extended indication group underwent an R0 resection (92.9% vs. 77.5%, P < 0.001). Only 17% of all R1 resected patients had recurrences at the transection plane. CONCLUSION: A partial hepatectomy for CRCLM with extended indications seems justified but is associated with higher complication rates, earlier recurrence and lower overall survival compared with limited indications. However, the median 5-year survival was substantial and a cure was achieved in 15.8% of patients.