Latest evidence on the management of early-stage and locally advanced rectal cancer: a narrative review

ANZ J Surg. 2022 Mar;92(3):365-372. doi: 10.1111/ans.17429. Epub 2022 Jan 9.


Rectal cancer is a challenging disease process to manage, with a rising incidence in young adults. Several clinical advances have been made in the past decade with regards to optimal treatment strategies in early-stage (T1-2, node negative tumours) and locally advanced cancers (T3-4 and/or nodal positivity) utilizing a multimodal approach of surgery, neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy, and adjuvant chemotherapy, all aiming to optimize oncological outcomes, while minimizing associated morbidity. This narrative review aimed to summarize trial level evidence apropos the management of early and locally advanced rectal cancer. All relevant prospective clinical trials were identified through a computer-assisted search of PubMed, EMBASE, Medline databases between 1990 and 30 June 2021. With regards to early rectal cancer, there is limited trial-level evidence in the literature. Total mesorectal excision (TME) is the current standard of care, but local excision could be considered in select patients with pT1 tumours, or patients with near or complete clinical response to neoadjuvant CRT. As for locally advanced rectal cancer, the current standard of care consists of long-course chemotheradiotherapy or short-course radiotherapy, followed by TME. However, the role of total neoadjuvant therapy is promising, with respect to both oncological outcomes, as well as in reducing toxicity. Both induction and consolidation chemotherapy treatment approaches have been described in literature, with encouraging early results. The optimal management of rectal cancer is constantly evolving. More research is needed to investigate the long-term oncological and functional outcomes following new multimodal therapies in the management of early-stage and locally advanced rectal cancer.

Keywords: neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy; rectal cancer; total mesorectal excision; total neoadjuvant therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use
  • Chemoradiotherapy / methods
  • Humans
  • Neoadjuvant Therapy / methods
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Neoplasms, Second Primary* / pathology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Rectal Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult