Purpose: Preoperative chemoradiation therapy is used widely in the treatment of rectal cancer. The predictive value of response to neoadjuvant remains uncertain. We retrospectively evaluated the impact of response to preoperative and, specifically, of T-level downstaging, nodal downstaging, and complete pathologic response after chemoradiation therapy on oncologic outcome of patients with locally advanced rectal cancer.
Methods: There were 88 patients with ultrasound Stage T3/T4 midrectal (n = 37) and low rectal (n = 51) cancers (63 males; mean age 62.6 years). All patients were treated by preoperative 5-fluorouracil-based chemotherapy and pelvic radiation followed by surgical resection in six weeks or longer (56 sphincter-preserving resections).
Results: T-level downstaging after neoadjuvant treatment was demonstrated in 36 (41 percent) of 88 patients, and complete pathologic response was observed in 16 (18 percent) of the 88. Of the 42 patients with ultrasound-positive nodes, 27 had no evidence of nodal involvement on pathologic evaluation (64 percent). The overall response rate (T-level downstaging or nodal downstaging) was 51 percent. At a median follow-up of 33 months, 86.4 percent of patients were alive. The overall recurrence rate was 10.2 percent (three patients had local and six had metastatic recurrences). Patients with T-level downstaging and complete pathologic response were characterized by significantly better disease-free survival (P = 0.03, P = 0.04) and better overall survival (P = 0.07, P = 0.08), according to Wilcoxon's test comparing Kaplan-Meier survival curves. None of the patients with complete pathologic response developed recurrence or died during the follow-up period.
Conclusion: T-level downstaging and complete pathologic response after preoperative chemoradiation therapy followed by definitive surgical resection for advanced rectal cancer resulted in decreased recurrence and improved disease-free survival. Advanced rectal cancers that undergo T-level downstaging and complete pathologic response after chemoradiation therapy may represent subgroups that are characterized by better biologic behavior.