Neoadjuvant Radiotherapy Versus Surgery Alone for Stage II/III Mid-low Rectal Cancer With or Without High-risk Factors: A Prospective Multicenter Stratified Randomized Trial

Xiangbing Deng, Ping Liu, Dan Jiang, Mingtian Wei, Xin Wang, Xuyang Yang, Yuanchuan Zhang, Bing Wu, Yanjun Liu, Meng Qiu, Hua Zhuang, Zongguang Zhou, Yunfeng Li, Feng Xu, Ziqiang Wang
Annals of Surgery 2020, 272 (6): 1060-1069

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to compare stage II/III rectal cancers with or without high-risk factors, and evaluate the effect of neoadjuvant radiotherapy (NRT) in these 2 cohorts.

BACKGROUND: NRT is often used in stage II/III rectal cancers to improve local control, while not affecting overall survival. However, good-quality surgery without NRT may also achieve good local control in selected patients.

METHODS: According to risk-stratification criteria and clinical staging, consecutive eligible participants of stage II/III rectal cancer were preoperatively classified into patients with (high-risk) or without (low-risk) high-risk factors. Both groups were respectively randomized to receive either short-course radiotherapy (SCRT) + total mesorectal excision (TME) or TME alone, forming the following 4 groups: high-risk patients with (HiR) or without (HiS) radiation, and low-risk patients with (LoR) or without (LoS) radiation. The primary endpoint was local recurrence. The secondary endpoints included overall survival, disease-free survival, distant recurrence, quality of surgery, and safety (NCT01437514).

RESULTS: In total, 401 patients were analyzed. With a median 54 months' follow-up, low-risk patients obtained better 3-year cumulative incidence of local recurrence (2.2% vs 11.0%, P = 0.006), overall survival rate (86.9%vs 76.5%, P = 0.002), disease-free survival rate (87.0% vs 67.9%, P < 0.001), and cumulative incidence of distant recurrence (12.5% vs 29.4%, P < 0.001) than high-risk patients. With regard to 3-year cumulative incidence of local recurrence, no differences were observed between the LoR and LoS groups (1.2% vs 3.0%, P = 0.983) or the HiR and HiS groups (12.9% vs 8.9%, P = 0.483).

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: Stratification of stage II/III rectal cancers according to risk factors to more precise subclassifications may result in noteworthy differences in survivals and local pelvic control. An extremely low cumulative incidence of local recurrence and survivals in low-risk patients can be achieved with upfront good quality of surgery alone. This trial, owing to the insufficient power, could not prove the noninferiority of surgery alone, but suggest a discriminative use of NRT according to clinical risk stratification in stage II/III rectal cancer.

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