This report is based on a series of 108 patients with clinically staged T2 (9), T3 (94) and T4 (5) rectal cancer treated with preoperative irradiation with 25 Gy, 5 Gy per fraction given for one week. In 77% of patients. the tumour was located within 7 cm of the anal verge and in 15% the anal canal was involved. Surgery was usually undertaken during the week after irradiation. For low tumours, total mesorectal excision was performed, and for middle and upper cancers, the whole circumference of the mesorectum was excised at least 2 cm below the lower pole of a tumour. Tumour was resected in 103 patients, and sphincter-preserving surgery was performed in 73% of them. In the subgroup where the tumour was located higher than 4 cm from the anal verge, sphincter-preserving surgery was performed in 95%. The follow-up period ranged from 10 to 49 months, with a median of 25 months. Local recurrences were observed in 4% of patients. Anorectal dysfunction caused impairment of social life in 40% of patients and 18% admitted that their quality of life was seriously affected however, none of them stated that they would have preferred a colostomy. These preliminary data suggest that following high dose per fraction short-term preoperative radiotherapy a high rate of sphincter-preserving surgery can be reached, with acceptable anorectal function and an acceptable rate of local failure and late complications. The results of our own data and literature review indicate the need for a randomized clinical trial comparing high dose per fraction preoperative radiotherapy with immediate surgery with conventional preoperative radiochemotherapy with delayed surgery.