Is short-course radiotherapy and total neoadjuvant therapy the new standard of care in locally advanced rectal cancer? A sensitivity analysis of the RAPIDO clinical trial

Ann Oncol. 2022 Aug;33(8):786-793. doi: 10.1016/j.annonc.2022.04.010. Epub 2022 Apr 22.


Background: The results of the RAPIDO trial have been accepted as evidence in favour of short-course radiotherapy (SC-RT) followed by chemotherapy before total mesorectal excision in high-risk locally advanced rectal cancer. A noteworthy concern is that the RAPIDO trial did not ensure that all patients in the control arm received adjuvant chemotherapy. This may bias statistical estimates in favour of the experimental arm if adjuvant chemotherapy is active in rectal cancer. Moreover, the 5-year update revealed an increase in the risk of local relapse in the experimental arm.

Materials and methods: We carried out sensitivity analyses to determine how plausible effects of adjuvant chemotherapy, adjusted by the proportion of patients in the standard arm receiving adjuvant treatment, would have influenced the observed treatment effect estimate of the RAPIDO trial. The most plausible values for the benefit of adjuvant chemotherapy were determined by Bayesian re-analysis of a prior meta-analysis.

Results: The meta-analysis suggested that oxaliplatin/fluorouracil-based adjuvant chemotherapy may improve disease-free survival (DFS) in rectal cancer although the signal is weak [hazard ratio (HR) 0.84, 95% credible interval, 0.57-1.15]; probability of benefit (HR <1) was 91.2%. In the sensitivity analysis, the HR for disease-related treatment failure would remain <1, thus favouring total neoadjuvant therapy (TNT), on most occasions, but the null hypothesis would not have been rejected in various credible settings. For the RAPIDO data to be consistent with the null effect, a moderate benefit of adjuvant chemotherapy (HR for DFS between 0.75 and 0.80) and 70%-80% of exposed participants would suffice.

Conclusion: The decision to make adjuvant chemotherapy optional in the standard arm may have biased the results in favour of the experimental arm, in a scenario in which TNT does not offset the increase in local recurrences after SC-RT.

Keywords: RAPIDO; locoregional recurrence; rectal cancer; short-course radiotherapy; total neoadjuvant therapy.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Chemoradiotherapy / methods
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant / methods
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Fluorouracil
  • Humans
  • Neoadjuvant Therapy* / methods
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / drug therapy
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / radiotherapy
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Rectal Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Rectal Neoplasms* / radiotherapy
  • Standard of Care


  • Fluorouracil