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A Journal on Surgery

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Minerva Chirurgica 2013 February;68(1):11-26


language: English

Chemoradiation of rectal cancer

Arrazubi V. 1, Suárez J. 2, Novas P. 1, Pérez-Hoyos M. T. 1, Vera R. 2, Martínez Del Prado P. 1

1 Hospital Universitario de Basurto, Bilbao, Spain; 2 Complejo Hospitalario de Navarra, Pamplona, Spain


The treatment of locally advanced rectal cancer is a challenge. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy comprise the multimodal therapy that is administered in most cases. Therefore, a multidisciplinary approach is required. Because this cancer has a high rate of local recurrence, efforts have been made to improve clinical outcomes while minimizing toxicity and maintaining quality of life. Thus, total mesorectal excision technique was developed as the standard surgery, and chemotherapy and radiotherapy have been established as neoadjuvant treatment. Both approaches reduce locoregional relapse. Two neoadjuvant treatments have emerged as standards of care: short-course radiotherapy and long-course chemoradiotherapy with fluoropyrimidines; however, long-course chemoradiotherapy might be more appropriate for low-lying neoplasias, bulky tumours or tumours with near-circumferential margins. If neoadjuvant treatment is not administered and locally advanced stage is demonstrated in surgical specimens, adjuvant chemoradiotherapy is recommended. The addition of chemotherapy to the treatment regimen confers a significant benefit. Adjuvant chemotherapy is widely accepted despite scarce evidence of its benefit. The optimal time for surgery after neoadjuvant therapy, the treatment of low-risk T3N0 neoplasms, the convenience of avoiding radiotherapy in some cases and tailoring treatment to pathological response have been recurrent subjects of debate that warrant more extensive research. Adding new drugs, changing the treatment sequence and selecting the treatment based on prognostic or predictive factors other than stage remain experimental.

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