Objective: To evaluate the effect of experience on preoperative staging of rectal cancer using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and transrectal ultrasound (TRUS).
Material and methods: From January 2002 to May 2006, 134 consecutive patients with biopsy-proven rectal cancer were examined with a 1.5-Tesla MRI unit and TRUS using a 6.5-MHz transducer. An experienced gastrointestinal radiologist (R1) or a general radiologist (R2) performed the evaluations. All patients (78 M, 56 F, mean age 69.1 years, range 38-89) were treated with surgery alone. The mean size of the tumour was 4.0 cm (range 1.1-7.5). A complete postoperative histopathological examination was used as the gold standard.
Results: At pathology, 42 of 134 (31%) tumours were classified as T1-T2 and 92 (69%) were classified as T3-T4. The TRUS sensitivity in rectal tumour T-staging was 93% for R1 and 75% for R2 (p<0. 01); specificity was 83% for R1 and 46% for R2 (p<0.05). The MRI sensitivity in rectal tumour T-staging was 96% for R1 and 77% for R2 (p<0. 05); the specificity was 74% for R1 and 40% for R2 (p<0.05). There was no difference in the results of N-staging between R1 and R2 for either TRUS or MRI.
Conclusion: Reader experience had a statistically significant positive effect on the preoperative prediction of tumour involvement of the rectal wall. To obtain high-quality preoperative prediction of rectal cancer T-stage, it is suggested that preoperative TRUS and MRI staging should be supervised by an expert in the colorectal cancer team. In addition to this supervision, the person responsible for staging should be trained through a defined training programme.