One of the main problems in the treatment of rectal cancer is the development of local recurrences. In the last decades, major improvements have been realized in the surgical treatment of rectal cancer. The introduction of TME-surgery has led to a large reduction in local recurrence rates and improved survival. TME-based operations are now established as the standard of care for rectal cancer, and should form the basis for trials concerning the role of (neo)adjuvant therapy. However, training and quality control are prerequisites to obtain good results in all surgeons' hands. Furthermore, standardization in the description of operations and reporting of pathology specimens should be implemented as important features of quality control. In general, it is thought that high volume and specialist care produces superior results to low volume and non-specialist care, especially for those less frequent forms of cancer and in technically difficult operations, like those for rectal cancer. However, limiting the performance of rectal cancer surgery to highly specialized surgeons or to only those general surgeons who perform more than a certain volume is impractical in view of the prevalence of rectal cancer. This article reviews developments in the treatment of especially mobile rectal cancer and pays attention to variability in outcomes and quality assurance of surgery.