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Prognostic factors have the potential to determine the survival of patients to a greater extent than current antineoplastic agents. Despite this knowledge, there is no consensus on, first, what patient characteristics to report and, second, what stratification factors to use in metastatic colorectal cancer trials.Seven leading oncology and medical journals were reviewed for phase II and III publications reporting on medical treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer patients during 2001–2005. One hundred and forty-three studies with 21 214 patients were identified. The reporting of patient characteristics and use of stratification was noted.Age, gender, performance status, metastases location, sites and adjuvant chemotherapy were often reported (99–63%). Laboratory values as alkaline phosphatase, lactate dehydrogenase and white blood cell count, repeatedly found to be of prognostic relevance, were rarely reported (5–9%). Stratification was used in all phase III trials; however, only study centre was used with any consistency.There is considerable inconsistency in the reporting of patient characteristics and use of stratification factors in metastatic colorectal cancer trials. We propose a standardization of patient characteristics reporting and stratification factors. A common set of characteristics and strata will aid in trial reporting, interpretation and future meta-analyses.