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Rectum-conserving surgery in the era of chemoradiotherapy




A complete pathological response occurs in 10–30 per cent of patients with locally advanced rectal cancer undergoing neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy (CRT). The standard of care has been radical surgery with high morbidity risks and the challenges of stomata despite the favourable prognosis. This review assessed minimalist approaches (transanal excision or observation alone) to tumours with a response to CRT.


A systematic review was performed using PubMed and Embase databases. Keywords included: ‘rectal’, ‘cancer’, ‘transanal’, ‘conservative’, ‘complete pathological response’, ‘radiotherapy’ and ‘neoadjuvant’. Original articles from all relevant listings were sourced. These were hand searched for further articles of relevance. Main outcome measures assessed were rates of local recurrence and overall survival, and equivalence to radical surgery.


Purely conservative ‘watch and wait’ strategies after CRT are still controversial. Originally used for elderly patients or those who refused surgery, the data support transanal excision of rectal tumours showing a good response to CRT. A complete pathological response in the T stage (ypT0) indicates < 5 per cent risk of nodal metastases.


Rectal tumours showing an excellent response to CRT may be suitable for local excision, with equivalent outcomes to radical surgery. This approach should be the subject of prospective clinical trials in specialist centres. Copyright © 2010 British Journal of Surgery Society Ltd. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.