Five cases are described where minute foci of adenocarcinoma have been demonstrated in the mesorectum several centimetres distal to the apparent lower edge of a rectal cancer. In 2 of these there was no other evidence of lymphatic spread of the tumour. In orthodox anterior resection much of this tissue remains in the pelvis, and it is suggested that these foci might lead to suture-line or pelvic recurrence. Total excision of the mesorectum has, therefore, been carried out as a part of over 100 consecutive anterior resections. Fifty of these, which were classified as ‘curative’ or ‘conceivably curative’ operations, have now been followed for over 2 years with no pelvic or staple-line recurrence.