Rectal Cancer: Preoperative Versus Postoperative Irradiation as a Component of Adjuvant Treatment

Leonard L. Gunderson, Michael G. Haddock, Steven E. Schild

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The search for improved disease control and survival for resectable but high-risk rectal cancers has led to studies that combine all 3 modalities. For surgically resected, high-risk rectal cancers, postoperative chemoradiation has been shown to improve both disease control (local and distant) and survival (disease free and overall) and was recommended as standard adjuvant treatment at the 1990 National Institute of Health Colorectal Cancer Consensus Conference. Three randomized studies showed improved overall survival (OS) and local control for patients treated with postoperative irradiation and chemotherapy when compared with surgery alone or surgery plus irradiation control arms. These include 2 US trials, Gastrointestinal Tumor Study Group and Mayo/North Central Cancer Treatment Group (NCCTG) and a Norway trial. Although most preoperative external beam radiation trials show reductions in local relapse with the addition of preoperative EBRT to resection, only the large Swedish trial of ∼1,100 patients showed a survival improvement when compared with a surgery alone control arm for resectable primary rectal cancers. In a recent pooled analysis of 3 postoperative adjuvant rectal cancer trials (NCCTG 794751, NCCTG 864751, and GI Intergroup 0114) survival and disease relapse were dependent on both TN and NT stage of disease (N substage within T stage and T substage within N stage). Even among N2 patients (4 or more positive nodes), T substage influenced 5-year OS (T1-2, 69%; T3, 48%; and T4, 38%; P < .001). Ongoing randomized trials are being conducted for patients with high-risk, resectable primary rectal cancers. The intent is to help define optimal combinations of postoperative chemoradiation (US GI Intergroup), to test sequencing issues of preoperative versus postoperative chemoradiation (Germany trial), and to determine if concurrent and maintenance 5-FU and leucovorin add to the benefits found with preoperative irradiation (European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer). For subsequent trials, it may be preferable to perform separate studies, or a planned statistical analysis, for different risk groups of patients (low, intermediate, moderately high, and high), as defined in the rectal cancer pooled analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)419-432
Number of pages14
JournalSeminars in Radiation Oncology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Cancer Research


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