Importance: Chemoradiotherapy (CRT), followed by surgery, is the recommended approach for stage II and III rectal cancer. While CRT decreases the risk of local recurrence, it does not improve survival and leads to poorer functional outcomes than surgery alone. Therefore, new approaches to better select patients for CRT are important.
Objective: To conduct a phase 2 study to evaluate the safety and feasibility of using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) criteria to select patients with "good prognosis" rectal tumors for primary surgery.
Design, setting, and participants: Prospective nonrandomized phase 2 study at 12 high-volume colorectal surgery centers across Canada. From September 30, 2014, to October 21, 2016, a total of 82 patients were recruited for the study. Participants were patients newly diagnosed as having rectal cancer with MRI-predicted good prognosis rectal cancer. The MRI criteria for good prognosis tumors included distance to the mesorectal fascia greater than 1 mm; definite T2, T2/early T3, or definite T3 with less than 5 mm of extramural depth of invasion; and absent or equivocal extramural venous invasion.
Interventions: Patients with rectal cancer with MRI-predicted good prognosis tumors underwent primary surgery.
Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was the proportion of patients with a positive circumferential resection margin (CRM) rate. Assuming a 10% baseline probability of a positive CRM, a sample size of 75 was estimated to yield a 95% CI of ±6.7%.
Results: Eighty-two patients (74% male) participated in the study. The median age at the time of surgery was 66 years (range, 37-89 years). Based on MRI, most tumors were midrectal (65% [n = 53]), T2/early T3 (60% [n = 49]), with no suspicious lymph nodes (63% [n = 52]). On final pathology, 91% (n = 75) of tumors were T2 or greater, 29% (n = 24) were node positive, and 59% (n = 48) were stage II or III. The positive CRM rate was 4 of 82 (4.9%; 95% CI, 0.2%-9.6%).
Conclusions and relevance: The use of MRI criteria to select patients with good prognosis rectal cancer for primary surgery results in a low rate of positive CRM and suggests that CRT may not be necessary for all patients with stage II and III rectal cancer.
Trial registration: ISRCTN.com identifier: ISRCTN05107772.