Chemotherapy with preoperative radiotherapy in rectal cancer

N Engl J Med. 2006 Sep 14;355(11):1114-23. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa060829.


Background: Preoperative radiotherapy is recommended for selected patients with rectal cancer. We evaluated the addition of chemotherapy to preoperative radiotherapy and the use of postoperative chemotherapy in the treatment of rectal cancer.

Methods: We randomly assigned patients with clinical stage T3 or T4 resectable rectal cancer to receive preoperative radiotherapy, preoperative chemoradiotherapy, preoperative radiotherapy and postoperative chemotherapy, or preoperative chemoradiotherapy and postoperative chemotherapy. Radiotherapy consisted of 45 Gy delivered over a period of 5 weeks. One course of chemotherapy consisted of 350 mg of fluorouracil per square meter of body-surface area per day and 20 mg of leucovorin per square meter per day, both given for 5 days. Two courses were combined with preoperative radiotherapy in the group receiving preoperative chemoradiotherapy and the group receiving preoperative chemoradiotherapy and postoperative chemotherapy; four courses were planned postoperatively in the group receiving preoperative radiotherapy and postoperative chemotherapy and the group receiving preoperative chemoradiotherapy and postoperative chemotherapy. The primary end point was overall survival.

Results: We enrolled 1011 patients in the trial. There was no significant difference in overall survival between the groups that received chemotherapy preoperatively (P=0.84) and those that received it postoperatively (P=0.12). The combined 5-year overall survival rate for all four groups was 65.2%. The 5-year cumulative incidence rates for local recurrences were 8.7%, 9.6%, and 7.6% in the groups that received chemotherapy preoperatively, postoperatively, or both, respectively, and 17.1% in the group that did not receive chemotherapy (P=0.002). The rate of adherence to preoperative chemotherapy was 82.0%, and to postoperative chemotherapy was 42.9%.

Conclusions: In patients with rectal cancer who receive preoperative radiotherapy, adding fluorouracil-based chemotherapy preoperatively or postoperatively has no significant effect on survival. Chemotherapy, regardless of whether it is administered before or after surgery, confers a significant benefit with respect to local control. ( number, NCT00002523 [].).

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / drug therapy*
  • Adenocarcinoma / mortality
  • Adenocarcinoma / radiotherapy*
  • Adenocarcinoma / surgery
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Fluorouracil / administration & dosage
  • Fluorouracil / adverse effects
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Leucovorin / administration & dosage
  • Leucovorin / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Care
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Preoperative Care
  • Rectal Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Rectal Neoplasms / mortality
  • Rectal Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Rectal Neoplasms / surgery
  • Recurrence
  • Survival Analysis


  • Leucovorin
  • Fluorouracil

Associated data