Five fractions of preoperative radiotherapy for selected cases of rectal carcinoma: Long-term tumor control and tolerance to treatment

Robert J. Myerson, Domenico Genovesi, Mary A. Lockett, Elisa Birnbaum, James Fleshman, Robert Fry, Ira Kodner, Jondavid Menteer, Joel Picus, Thomas Read, Bruce Walz

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28 Scopus citations


Background: Randomized Swedish studies demonstrate the efficacy of a 5- fraction course of preoperative radiotherapy for rectal carcinoma. The present study evaluates the results in a single U.S. institution over a 20- year period with a similar regimen. Methods and Materials: During the period of 1975-1995, 83 patients received pelvic radiotherapy of 20 Gy/5 fractions, followed by immediate surgery for rectal cancer. These patients represented 21% of cases receiving preoperative treatment; the remainder received 45-50 Gy preoperatively. The 5-fraction course was used for lesions deemed readily resectable but too bulky for conservative endocavitary treatment. Since 1990, it has been our policy to administer postoperative chemotherapy to medically fit patients who prove to have pathologic Stage II or III disease. Patient characteristics including age (mean 65 years, range 23-90), gender (45% male), and location within the rectum were comparable to our previously reported cases that received 45 Gy/25 fractions preoperatively. However, the group selected for 5 fractions preoperatively had relatively fewer lesions that were tethered (20% vs. 61%), circumferential (11% vs. 20%), or near obstructing (1% vs. 16%). Results: With a post treatment follow-up of 1-15 years (mean 4.7), there have been 3 local failures and 12 distant failures, with an actuarial local control of 95%, and disease-specific survival of 77% at 5 and 10 years. Grade ≥ 3 perioperative or late toxicity occurred in 11 cases (13%), including 3 (3.5%) late bowel obstructions. Stage II or III disease was found in 56% of the cases, 74% of which were free of disease at last follow-up. However, patients with Stage II or III lesions that were significantly tethered or fixed had a 40% greater likelihood of recurring than similar stage lesions that were, at most, slightly tethered. Sphincter- preserving surgery was possible in 60% of the patients. In recent years, postoperative chemotherapy has been administered to 16 patients with Stage II or III disease; this has been well tolerated, with only 1 late toxicity (cystitis managed medically). When compared with a matched group of cases receiving conventionally fractionated preoperative radiation, there were no significant differences in perioperative morbidity and nonradiotherapeutic cost generating factors (length of hospital stay, duration of postoperative antibiotics, blood loss at surgery). Conclusion: Patients with resectable rectal cancer who received 20 Gy/5 fractions preoperative radiotherapy to the pelvis had excellent local and distant control of disease. These patients were able to undergo sphincter-preserving surgery and postoperative chemotherapy. It would be of interest to conduct a randomized trial comparing short course with longer course (45 or 50 Gy) preoperative radiotherapy for resectable T3 lesions. The results of this study suggest that, in general, differences in toxicity, local control, and disease-free survival would probably be < 10%. However, since the results of this study suggest that patients with significantly tethered lesions may be better served with the higher dose and longer duration course of radiation, clinical degree of fixation should be included as a stratification parameter, and stopping criteria should be included for tethered lesions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)537-543
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 1999


  • Adjuvant chemotherapy
  • Preoperative radiation
  • Rectal cancer


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