BACKGROUND: Although R0 surgery is recommended for stage IV colorectal cancer, the degree of required lymphadenectomy has not been established. The aim of this study was to investigate the prognostic impact of high ligation (HL) of the feeding artery and the number of retrieved lymph nodes after R0 surgery for colorectal cancer and synchronous colorectal cancer liver metastasis (CRLM). METHODS: This was a multi-institutional retrospective analysis of patients with colorectal cancer and synchronous CRLM who had R0 surgery between January 1997 and December 2007. Clinical and pathological features were compared in patients who underwent HL and those who had a low ligation (LL). Kaplan-Meier analysis was performed to estimate the effect of HL on overall survival (OS). The impact of several risk factors on survival was analysed using the Cox proportional hazards model. RESULTS: Of 549 patients, 409 (74·5 per cent) had HL. Median follow-up was 51·4 months. HL significantly improved the 5-year OS rate (58·2 per cent versus 49·3 per cent for LL; P = 0·017). Multivariable analysis revealed HL to be a significant prognostic factor compared with LL (5-year mortality: hazard ratio (HR) 0·68, 95 per cent c.i. 0·51 to 0·90; P = 0·007). In subgroup analysis, the positive effect of HL on OS was greatest in patients with lymph node metastasis. CONCLUSION: HL of the feeding artery was associated with improved OS in patients with colorectal cancer and synchronous CRLM after R0 surgery.