Purpose: To examine the relationship between tumor regression grade (TRG) and outcomes in patients with rectal cancer treated with preoperative therapy.
Methods and materials: Specimens from 144 patients with cT3,4 rectal cancer who had received preoperative radiation +/- chemotherapy and had a minimum follow-up of 3 years were retrospectively reviewed. TRG, which involves examining the residual neoplastic cells and scoring the degree of both cytological changes, including nuclear pyknosis or necrosis and/or eosinophilia, as well as stromal changes, including fibrosis (either dense or edematous) with or without inflammatory infiltrate and giant-cell granulomatosis around ghost cells and keratin, was quantified in five grades according to the Mandard score (Cancer 1994;73:2680-2686). The greater the response, the lower the TRG score. The median follow-up was 72 months (range, 40-143 months).
Results: Of the 144 patients, 19% were TRG1, 12% were TRG2, 21% were TRG3, 46% were TRG4, and 1% were TRG5. To simplify the analysis, TRG was combined into two groups: TRG1-2 and TRG3-5. By univariate analysis, none of the pretreatment factors examined, including age, circumference, length, distance from the anorectal ring, pretreatment T and N stage, and INDpre (defined as the pretreatment reference index size based on digital rectal examination), had an impact on 5-year outcomes, including local control, metastases-free survival, disease-free survival, and overall survival. Postoperative parameters, including pathologic T stage (pT), pathologic N stage (pN), and TRG, did significantly influence 5-year outcomes. These included local failure: pT0-2: 5% vs. pT3-4: 19%, p = 0.007; pN0: 7% vs. pN1-3: 26%, p = 0.002; TRG1-2: 2% vs. TRG3-5: 17%, p = 0.013; metastasis-free survival: pT0-2: 86% vs. pT3-4: 62%, p = 0.005; pN-: 86% vs. pN*: 42%, p < 0.001; TRG1-2: 91% vs. TRG3-5: 66%, p = 0.004; disease-free survival: pT0-2: 83% vs. pT3-4: 54%, p = 0.001; pN0: 80% vs. pN1-3: 39%, p < 0.001; TRG1-2: 91% vs. TRG3-5: 58%, p < 0.001; and overall survival: pT0-2: 85% vs. pT3-4: 65%, p = 0.007; pN0: 86% vs. pN1-3: 45%, p < 0.001; TRG1-2: 89% vs. TRG3-5: 68%, p = 0.004. By multivariate analysis combining all pre- and posttreatment parameters, only pN (p < 0.001) and TRG (p = 0.005) significantly predicted disease-free survival. Furthermore, TRG predicted the incidence of pathologic nodal involvement (p < 0.0001).
Conclusions: By univariate analysis, TRG is a predictor for local failure, metastases-free survival, and overall survival. By multivariate analysis, it predicts improved disease-free survival. Given the ability of TRG to predict those patients with N* disease, it may be helpful, in combination with other clinicopathologic factors, in selecting patients for a more conservative procedure, such as local excision rather than radical surgery, after preoperative therapy.