Importance: Total neoadjuvant therapy has been increasingly adopted for multimodal rectal cancer treatment. The optimal sequence of chemoradiotherapy (CRT) and chemotherapy needs to be established.
Objective: To report the long-term results of the secondary end points prespecified in the Randomized Phase 2 Trial of Chemoradiotherapy Plus Induction or Consolidation Chemotherapy as Total Neoadjuvant Therapy (CAO/ARO/AIO-12 trial) for Locally Advanced Rectal Cancer.
Design, setting, and participants: This secondary analysis of a randomized clinical trial included 311 patients who were recruited from the accrued CAO/ARO/AIO-12 trial population from June 15, 2015, to January 31, 2018, from 18 centers in Germany. Patients with cT3-4 and/or node-positive rectal adenocarcinoma were included in the analysis. Data were analyzed from June 15, 2015, to January 31, 2018. The follow-up analysis was conducted between January 31, 2018, and November 30, 2020.
Interventions: Patients were randomly assigned to group A for 3 cycles of fluorouracil, leucovorin, and oxaliplatin before fluorouracil/oxaliplatin CRT (50.4 Gy), or to group B for CRT before chemotherapy. Total mesorectal excision was scheduled on day 123 after the start of total neoadjuvant therapy in both groups.
Main outcomes and measures: The end points assessed in this secondary analysis included long-term oncologic outcomes, chronic toxicity, patient-reported outcome measures for global health status (GHS) and quality of life (QoL), and the Wexner stool incontinence score.
Results: Of the 311 patients enrolled, 306 were evaluable, including 156 in group A (mean [SD] age, 60  years; 106 men [68%]) and 150 in group B (mean [SD] age, 62  years; 100 men [67%]). After a median follow-up of 43 months (range, 35-60 months), the 3-year disease-free survival was 73% in both groups (hazard ratio, 0.95; 95% CI, 0.63-1.45, P = .82); the 3-year cumulative incidence of locoregional recurrence (6% vs 5%, P = .67) and distant metastases (18% vs 16%, P = .52) were not significantly different. Chronic toxicity grade 3 to 4 occurred in 10 of 85 patients (11.8%) in group A and 8 of 66 patients (9.9%) in group B at 3 years. The GHS/QoL score decreased after total mesorectal excision but returned to pretreatment levels 1 year after randomization with no difference between the groups. Stool incontinence deteriorated 1 year after randomization in both groups and only improved slightly at 3 years, but never reached baseline levels.
Conclusions and relevance: This secondary analysis of a randomized clinical trial showed that CRT followed by chemotherapy resulted in higher pathological complete response without compromising disease-free survival, toxicity, QoL, or stool incontinence and is thus proposed as the preferred total neoadjuvant therapy sequence if organ preservation is a priority.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT02363374.