The importance of MRI for rectal cancer evaluation

Surg Oncol. 2022 Aug:43:101739. doi: 10.1016/j.suronc.2022.101739. Epub 2022 Mar 18.


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has gained increasing importance in the management of rectal cancer over the last two decades. The role of MRI in patients with rectal cancer has expanded beyond the tumor-node-metastasis (TNM) system in both staging and restaging scenarios and has contributed to identifying "high" and "low" risk features that can be used to tailor and personalize patient treatment; for instance, selecting the patients for neoadjuvant chemoradiation (NCRT) before the total mesorectal excision (TME) surgery based on risk of recurrence. Among those features, the status of the circumferential resection margin (CRM), extramural vascular invasion (EMVI), and tumor deposits (TD) have stood out. Moreover, MRI also has played a role in surgical planning, especially when the tumor is located in the low rectum, when the relationship between tumor and the anal canal is important to choose the best surgical approach, and in cases of locally advanced or recurrent tumors invading adjacent pelvic organs that may require more complex surgeries such as pelvic exenteration. As approaches using organ preservation emerge, including transanal local excision and "watch-and-wait", MRI may help in the patient selection for those treatments, follow up, and detection of tumor regrowth. Additionally, potential MRI-based prognostic and predictive biomarkers, such as quantitative and semi-quantitative metrics derived from functional sequences like diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) and dynamic contrast-enhanced (DCE), and radiomics, are under investigation. This review provides an overview of the current role of MRI in rectal cancer in staging and restaging and highlights the main areas under investigation and future perspectives.

Keywords: Magnetic resonance imaging; Rectal cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neoadjuvant Therapy / methods
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local* / pathology
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Rectal Neoplasms* / diagnostic imaging
  • Rectal Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Rectal Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Rectum / pathology
  • Rectum / surgery