Rectal cancer pelvic recurrence: imaging patterns and key concepts to guide treatment planning

Akitoshi Inoue, Shannon P. Sheedy, Michael L. Wells, Achille Mileto, Ajit H. Goenka, Eric C. Ehman, Mariana Yalon, Naveen S. Murthy, Kellie L. Mathis, Kevin T. Behm, Sherief F. Shawki, David H. Bruining, Rondell P. Graham, Joel G. Fletcher

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


For rectal cancer, MRI plays an important role in assessing extramural tumor spread and informs surgical planning. The contemporary standardized management of rectal cancer with total mesorectal excision guided by imaging-based risk stratification has dramatically improved patient outcomes. Colonoscopy and CT are utilized in surveillance after surgery to detect intraluminal and extramural recurrence, respectively; however, local recurrence of rectal cancer remains a challenge because postoperative changes such as fat necrosis and fibrosis can resemble tumor recurrence; additionally, mucinous adenocarcinoma recurrence may mimic fluid collection or abscess on CT. MRI and 18F-FDG PET are problem-resolving modalities for equivocal imaging findings on CT. Treatment options for recurrent rectal cancer include pelvic exenteration to achieve radical (R0 resection) resection and intraoperative radiation therapy. After pathologic diagnosis of recurrence, imaging plays an essential role for evaluating the feasibility and approach of salvage surgery. Patterns of recurrence can be divided into axial/central, anterior, lateral, and posterior. Some lateral and posterior recurrence patterns especially in patients with neurogenic pain are associated with perineural invasion. Cross-sectional imaging, especially MRI and 18F-FDG PET, permit direct visualization of perineural spread, and contribute to determining the extent of resection. Multidisciplinary discussion is essential for treatment planning of locally recurrent rectal cancer. This review article illustrates surveillance strategy after initial surgery, imaging patterns of rectal cancer recurrence based on anatomic classification, highlights imaging findings of perineural spread on each modality, and discusses how resectability and contemporary surgical approaches are determined based on imaging findings. Graphical abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1867-1879
Number of pages13
JournalAbdominal Radiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2023


  • Local neoplasm recurrence
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Pelvic exenteration
  • Positron Emission Tomography
  • Rectal neoplasms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Gastroenterology
  • Urology


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