Objectives: Addition of chemotherapy in the resting period between radiotherapy completion and response assessment during neoadjuvant treatment for distal rectal cancer could potentially increase rates of complete tumor regression. The purpose of this study was to evaluate toxicity rates and the impact of an extended neoadjuvant chemoradiation regimen on complete response rates.
Methods: Thirty-four consecutive patients with nonmetastatic distal rectal cancer were prospectively included. Patients were managed by 5,400 Gy of radiation and 5-fluorouracil/leucovorin-based chemotherapy given for three consecutive days every 21 days for six cycles (three cycles concomitant with radiotherapy). Tumor response assessment was performed at ten weeks from radiation completion. Patients with complete clinical response were strictly monitored and were not immediately operated on. Patients with incomplete clinical response were referred to surgery.
Results: Twenty-nine patients had completed 12 months of follow-up and were included in this preliminary analysis. Twenty-eight (97%) successfully completed treatment. Fifteen of 16 patients had Grade III toxicities that were skin-related (93%). Median follow-up was 23 months. Fourteen patients (48%) were considered as complete clinical responders sustained for at least 12 months (median, 24 months) after chemoradiation completion by clinical assessment alone. An additional five patients (17%) were considered as complete responders with ypT0 results after full-thickness local excision. Overall, the complete response rate was 65%.
Conclusions: The addition of chemotherapy during the resting period after neoadjuvant chemoradiation is associated with acceptable toxicity and high tolerability rates. The considerably high rates of complete response in this preliminary series requires further follow-up, but they may provide valuable information for future prospective, randomized trials.