PURPOSEProspective data on the efficacy of a watch-and-wait strategy to achieve organ preservation in patients with locally advanced rectal cancer treated with total neoadjuvant therapy are limited.METHODSIn this prospective, randomized phase II trial, we assessed the outcomes of 324 patients with stage II or III rectal adenocarcinoma treated with induction chemotherapy followed by chemoradiotherapy (INCT-CRT) or chemoradiotherapy followed by consolidation chemotherapy (CRT-CNCT) and either total mesorectal excision (TME) or watch-and-wait on the basis of tumor response. Patients in both groups received 4 months of infusional fluorouracil-leucovorin-oxaliplatin or capecitabine-oxaliplatin and 5,000 to 5,600 cGy of radiation combined with either continuous infusion fluorouracil or capecitabine during radiotherapy. The trial was designed as two stand-alone studies with disease-free survival (DFS) as the primary end point for both groups, with a comparison to a null hypothesis on the basis of historical data. The secondary end point was TME-free survival.RESULTSMedian follow-up was 3 years. Three-year DFS was 76% (95% CI, 69 to 84) for the INCT-CRT group and 76% (95% CI, 69 to 83) for the CRT-CNCT group, in line with the 3-year DFS rate (75%) observed historically. Three-year TME-free survival was 41% (95% CI, 33 to 50) in the INCT-CRT group and 53% (95% CI, 45 to 62) in the CRT-CNCT group. No differences were found between groups in local recurrence-free survival, distant metastasis-free survival, or overall survival. Patients who underwent TME after restaging and patients who underwent TME after regrowth had similar DFS rates.CONCLUSIONOrgan preservation is achievable in half of the patients with rectal cancer treated with total neoadjuvant therapy, without an apparent detriment in survival, compared with historical controls treated with chemoradiotherapy, TME, and postoperative chemotherapy.