Background: The role of adjuvant chemotherapy for patients with rectal cancer after preoperative (chemo)radiotherapy and surgery is uncertain. We did a meta-analysis of individual patient data to compare adjuvant chemotherapy with observation for patients with rectal cancer.
Methods: We searched PubMed, Medline, Embase, Web of Science, the Cochrane Library, CENTRAL, and conference abstracts to identify European randomised, controlled, phase 3 trials comparing observation with adjuvant chemotherapy after preoperative (chemo)radiotherapy and surgery for patients with non-metastatic rectal cancer. The primary endpoint of interest was overall survival.
Findings: We analysed data from four eligible trials, including data from 1196 patients with (y)pTNM stage II or III disease, who had an R0 resection, had a low anterior resection or an abdominoperineal resection, and had a tumour located within 15 cm of the anal verge. We found no significant differences in overall survival between patients who received adjuvant chemotherapy and those who underwent observation (hazard ratio [HR] 0.97, 95% CI 0.81-1.17; p=0.775); there were no significant differences in overall survival in subgroup analyses. Overall, adjuvant chemotherapy did not significantly improve disease-free survival (HR 0.91, 95% CI 0.77-1.07; p=0.230) or distant recurrences (0.94, 0.78-1.14; p=0.523) compared with observation. However, in subgroup analyses, patients with a tumour 10-15 cm from the anal verge had improved disease-free survival (0.59, 0.40-0.85; p=0.005, p(interaction)=0.107) and fewer distant recurrences (0.61, 0.40-0.94; p=0.025, p(interaction)=0.126) when treated with adjuvant chemotherapy compared with patients undergoing observation.
Interpretation: Overall, adjuvant fluorouracil-based chemotherapy did not improve overall survival, disease-free survival, or distant recurrences. However, adjuvant chemotherapy might benefit patients with a tumour 10-15 cm from the anal verge in terms of disease-free survival and distant recurrence. Further studies of preoperative and postoperative treatment for this subgroup of patients are warranted.
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