Aim Approximately 20% of rectal cancers treated with neoadjuvant chemoradiation achieve a pathological complete response (pCR), which is associated with an improved oncological outcome. However, in a proportion of patients with a pCR, acellular pools of mucin are present in the surgical specimen. The aim of this study was to evaluate the clinical implications of acellular mucin pools in patients with rectal adenocarcinoma achieving a pCR after neoadjuvant chemoradiation followed by proctectomy.
Method A single-centre colorectal cancer database was searched for patients with clinical Stage II and Stage III rectal adenocarcinoma who achieved a pCR (i.e. ypT0N0M0) after neoadjuvant chemoradiation followed by proctectomy between 1997 and 2007. Patients were categorized according to the presence or absence of acellular mucin pools in the resected specimen, and groups were compared. Patient demographics, tumour and treatment characteristics, and oncological outcomes were recorded. Primary outcomes were 3-year local and distant recurrences, and disease-free and overall survivals.
Results Two hundred and fifty-eight patients with clinical Stage II or Stage III rectal adenocarcinoma were treated by neoadjuvant chemoradiation. Fifty-eight of these patients had a 58 pCR. Eleven of the 58 patients with a pCR had acellular mucin pools in the surgical specimen. The median follow up was 40 months. The groups were statistically similar with respect to demographics, chemoradiation regimens, distance of tumour from the anal verge, clinical stage and surgical procedure. No patient had local recurrence. Patients with acellular mucin pools had increased distant recurrence (21%vs 5%), decreased disease-free survival (79%vs 95%) and decreased overall survival (83%vs 95%) rates, although none of these differences was statistically significant.
Conclusion The presence of acellular mucin pools in a proctectomy specimen with a pCR does not affect local recurrence, but may suggest a more aggressive tumour biology.