“Watch and wait“ strategy in the treatment of patients with rectal carcinoma

Rozhl Chir. 2021 Winter;100(11):517-521. doi: 10.33699/PIS.2021.100.11.517-521.


Innovative treatment strategies which do not involve oncosurgical radical rectal resection have been explored within the last decades in the management of patients with rectal carcinoma. Resection of the rectum with total mesorectal excision is burdened not only with significant postoperative morbidity, but also with symptoms of bowel, urinary and sexual dysfunctions, which can significantly affect patients quality of life. The aim of these alternative strategies is to preserve the anatomy and function of the rectum (so called organ preservation approach). This approach includes three innovative strategies: “watch and wait” strategy, neoadjuvant radiochemotherapy completed with transanal rectal carcinoma excision (or excision of the scar remaining after neoadjuvant therapy) and neoadjuvant radiochemotherapy of an early rectal carcinoma. So far, evidence supporting the organ preservation approach is highly insufficient in the available literature. There are no clear indication criteria for these strategies, no unequivocal criteria for complete clinical response detection and vague recommendations regarding an optimal neoadjuvant regimen or patients follow-up. Organ preservation approach is therefore considered to be an experimental treatment strategy, which should be offered only to patients within clinical trials with a high-quality design and very careful long-term follow-up. Patients considered for “watch and wait” must be informed properly about the benefits and drawbacks of the strategy including the risk of rectal carcinoma recurrence in 30% of the patients.

Keywords: complete pathological response; organ preservation approach; pathological complete response; radiotherapy; rectal cancer; rectal carcinoma; transanal excision.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma*
  • Humans
  • Neoadjuvant Therapy
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Quality of Life
  • Rectal Neoplasms* / surgery
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Watchful Waiting