Postoperative complications in patients irradiated pre-operatively for rectal cancer: report of a randomised trial comparing short-term radiotherapy vs chemoradiation


  • Presented at the 4th Scientific and Annual Meeting of European Association of Coloproctology, Barcelona, Spain, 18–23 September 2003.

Dr Krzysztof Bujko, The Maria Skodowska-Curie Memorial Cancer Centre and Institute of Oncology, W. K. Roentgena 5, 02 781 Warsaw, Poland.


Objective  The primary outcome was sphincter preservation. No benefit was found with chemoradiation. The aim of this report is to analyse postoperative complications, which were the secondary outcome.

Material and methods  Patients with resectable T3–4 low rectal carcinoma were randomised to receive either pre-operative 5 × 5 Gy irradiation with subsequent total mesorectal excision (TME) performed within 7 days or chemoradiation (50.4 Gy, 1.8 Gy per fraction plus bolus 5-fluorouracil and leucovorin) followed by TME after 4–6 weeks.

Results  Three hundred and five patients (153 in 5 × 5 Gy group and 152 in chemoradiation group) were analysed. The rates of patients with postoperative complications for the 5 × 5 Gy group and for the chemoradiation group were 27 vs 21%, respectively (P = 0.27). If the values were expressed in terms of number of complications, the rates were 31 vs 22%, respectively (P = 0.06). The corresponding values for severe complications were 10 vs 11% (P = 0.85) of patients with complications and 12 vs 11% (P = 0.85) of events.

Conclusion  The study did not demonstrate a statistically significant difference in the rate of postoperative complications after short-course pre-operative radiotherapy compared with full course chemoradiation.