Preoperative radiochemotherapy and sphincter-saving resection for T3 carcinomas of the lower third of the rectum

E Rullier, B Goffre, C Bonnel, F Zerbib, M Caudry, J Saric
Annals of Surgery 2001, 234 (5): 633-40

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the complications and oncologic and functional results of preoperative radiochemotherapy and sphincter-saving resection for T3 cancers of the lower third of the rectum.

SUMMARY BACKGROUND DATA: Carcinomas of the lower third of the rectum (i.e., located at or below 6 cm from the anal verge) are usually treated by abdominoperineal resection, especially for T3 lesions. Few data are available evaluating concomitant chemotherapy with preoperative radiotherapy for increasing sphincter-saving resection in low rectal cancer.

METHODS: Between 1995 and 1999, 43 patients underwent preoperative radiochemotherapy with conservative surgery for a low rectal tumor located a mean of 4.5 cm from the anal verge (range 2-6); 70% of the lesions were less than 2 cm from the anal sphincter. There were 40 T3 and 3 T4 tumors. Patients received preoperative radiotherapy with a mean dose of 50 Gy (range 40-54) and concomitant chemotherapy with 5-FU in continuous infusion (n = 36) or bolus (n = 7). Sphincter- saving resection was performed 6 weeks after treatment, in 25 patients by using intersphincteric resection. Coloanal anastomoses were associated with a colonic pouch in 86% of the patients, and all patients had a protecting stoma.

RESULTS: There were no deaths related to preoperative radiochemotherapy and surgery. Acute toxicity was mainly due to diarrhea, with 54% of grade 1 to 2. Four anastomotic fistulas and two pelvic hematomas occurred; all patients but one had closure of the stoma. Distal and radial surgical margins were respectively 23 +/- 8 mm (range 10-40) and 8 +/- 4 mm (range 1-20) and were negative in 98% of the patients. Downstaging (pT0-2N0) was observed in 42% of the patients (18/43) and was associated with a greater radial margin (10 vs. 6 mm; P =.02). After a median follow-up of 30 months, the rate of local recurrence was 2% (1/43), and four patients had distal metastases. Overall and disease-free survival rates were both 85% at 3 years. Functional results were good (Kirwan continence I, II) in 79% of the available patients (n = 37). They were slightly altered by intersphincteric resection (57 vs. 75% of perfect continence; NS) but were significantly improved by a colonic pouch (74 vs. 16%; P =.01).

CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that preoperative radiochemotherapy allowed sphincter-saving resection to be performed with good local control and good functional results in patients with T3 low rectal cancers that would have required abdominoperineal resection in most instances.

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