Pretreatment clinical findings predict outcome for patients receiving preoperative radiation for rectal cancer

Robert J. Myerson, Anurag Singh, Elisa H. Birnbaum, Robert D. Fry, James W. Fleshman, Ira J. Kodner, Mary Ann Lockett, Joel Picus, Bruce J. Walz, Thomas E. Read

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Background: As a sole modality, preoperative radiation for rectal carcinoma achieves a local control comparable to that of postoperative radiation plus chemotherapy. Although the addition of chemotherapy to preoperative treatment improves the pathologic complete response rate, there is also a substantial increase in acute and perioperative morbidity. Identification of subsets of patients who are at low or high risk for recurrence can help to optimize treatment. Methods: During the period 1977-95, 384 patients received preoperative radiation therapy for localized adenocarcinoma of the rectum. Ages ranged from 19 to 97 years (mean 64.4), and there were 171 females. Preoperative treatment consisted of conventionally fractionated radiation to 3600-5040 cGy (median 4500 cGy) 6-8 weeks before surgery in 293 cases or low doses of <3000 cGy (median 2000 cGy) immediately before surgery in 91 cases. Concurrent preoperative chemotherapy was given to only 14 cases in this study period. Postoperative chemotherapy was delivered to 55 cases. Results: Overall 93 patients have experienced recurrence (including 36 local failures). Local failures were scored if they occurred at any time, not just as first site of failure. For the group as a whole, the actuarial (Kaplan-Meier) freedom from relapse (FFR) and local control (LC) were 74% and 90% respectively at 5 years. Univariate analysis of clinical characteristics demonstrated a significant (p < 0.05) adverse effect on both LC and FFR for the following four clinical factors: (1) location <5 cm from the verge, (2) circumferential lesion, (3) near obstruction, (4) tethered or fixed tumor. Size, grade, age, gender, ultrasound stage, CEA, radiation dose, and the use of chemotherapy were not associated with outcome. Background of the surgeon was significantly associated with outcome, colorectal specialists achieving better results than nonspecialist surgeons. We assigned a clinical score of 0 to 2 on the basis of how many of the above four adverse clinical factors were present: 0 for none, 1 for one or two, 2 for three or four. This sorted outcome highly significantly (p ≤ 0.002, Tarone Ware), with 5-year LC/FFR of 98%/85% (score 0), 90%/72% (score 1), and 74%/58% (score 2). The scoring system sorts the data for both subgroups of surgeons; however, there are substantial differences in LC on the basis of the surgeon's experience. For colorectal specialists (251 cases), the 5-year LC is 100%, 94%, and 78% for scores of 0, 1, and 2, respectively (p = 0.004). For the more mixed group of nonspecialist surgeons (133 cases), LC is 98%, 80%, and 65% for scores of 0, 1, and 2 (p = 0.008). In multivariate analysis, the clinical score and surgeon's background retained independent predictive value, even when pathologic stage was included. Conclusions: For many patients with rectal cancer, adjuvant treatment can be administered in a well-tolerated sequential fashion-moderate doses of preoperative radiation followed by surgery followed by postoperative chemotherapy to address the risk of occult metastatic disease. A clinical scoring system has been presented here that would suggest that the local control is excellent for lesions with a score of 0 or (if the surgeon is experienced) 1, and therefore sequential treatment could be considered. Cases with a clinical score of 2 should be strongly considered for protocols evaluating more aggressive preoperative treatment, such as combined modality preoperative treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)665-674
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2001


  • Clinical staging
  • Preoperative
  • Rectal cancer


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