Background: Local failure rates are high for locally irresectable primary or recurrent colorectal cancer, even when chemoradiation therapy is employed. Aim: This review evaluates evidence supporting aggressive preoperative chemoradiation followed by maximal surgical resection and intraoperative radiation therapy to achieve disease control and cure for patients with locally advanced irresectable primary or recurrent rectal cancer. Results: A 5-year survival rate of 42 per cent with a central failure rate of 2 per cent may be achieved in patients with locally irresectable primary rectal cancer. In patients with locally recurrent disease, these values at 5 years are 18 and 28 per cent respectively. The 5-year incidence of distant metastasis remains high, affecting 64 per cent of patients with primary cancer and 75 per cent of those with recurrent cancer. Conclusion: A disease-free surgical resection margin remains paramount to achieve cure. Encouraging trends exist, however, for further evaluation of multimodality therapy as a means of reducing local recurrence of disease.
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