Background: The circumferential resection margin (CRM) is highly prognostic for local recurrence in rectal cancer surgery without neoadjuvant treatment. However, its significance in the setting of long-course neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy (nCRT) is not well defined.
Methods: Review of a single institution's prospectively maintained database from 1998 to 2007 identified 563 patients with locally advanced rectal cancer (T3/T4 and/or N1) receiving nCRT, followed after 6 weeks by total mesorectal excision (TME). Kaplan-Meier, Cox regression, and competing risk analysis were performed.
Results: The authors noted that 75 % of all patients had stage III disease as determined by endorectal ultrasound (ERUS) and/or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). With median follow-up of 39 months after resection, local and distant relapse were noted in 12 (2.1 %) and 98 (17.4 %) patients, respectively. On competing risk analysis, the optimal cutoff point of CRM was 1 mm for local recurrence and 2 mm for distant metastasis. Factors independently associated with local recurrence included CRM ≤1 mm, and high-grade tumor (p = 0.012 and 0.007, respectively). CRM ≤2 mm, as well as pathological, nodal, and overall tumor stage are also significant independent risk factors for distant metastasis (p = 0.025, 0.010, and <0.001, respectively).
Conclusion: In this dataset of locally advanced rectal cancer treated with nCRT followed by TME, CRM ≤1 mm is an independent risk factor for local recurrence and is considered a positive margin. CRM ≤2 mm was associated with distant recurrence, independent of pathological tumor and nodal stage.