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Multicenter, Randomized, Phase III Trial of Short-Term Radiotherapy Plus Chemotherapy Versus Long-Term Chemoradiotherapy in Locally Advanced Rectal Cancer (STELLAR).

PURPOSE: To ascertain if preoperative short-term radiotherapy followed by chemotherapy is not inferior to a standard schedule of long-term chemoradiotherapy in patients with locally advanced rectal cancer.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Patients with distal or middle-third, clinical primary tumor stage 3-4 and/or regional lymph node-positive rectal cancer were randomly assigned (1:1) to short-term radiotherapy (25 Gy in five fractions over 1 week) followed by four cycles of chemotherapy (total neoadjuvant therapy [TNT]) or chemoradiotherapy (50 Gy in 25 fractions over 5 weeks, concurrently with capecitabine [chemoradiotherapy; CRT]). Total mesorectal excision was undertaken 6-8 weeks after preoperative treatment, with two additional cycles of CAPOX (intravenous oxaliplatin [130 mg/m2 , once a day] on day 1 and capecitabine [1,000 mg/m2 , twice a day] from days 1 to 14) in the TNT group and six cycles of CAPOX in the CRT group. The primary end point was 3-year disease-free survival (DFS).

RESULTS: Between August 2015 and August 2018, a total of 599 patients were randomly assigned to receive TNT (n = 302) or CRT (n = 297). At a median follow-up of 35.0 months, 3-year DFS was 64.5% and 62.3% in TNT and CRT groups, respectively (hazard ratio, 0.883; one-sided 95% CI, not applicable to 1.11; P < .001 for noninferiority). There was no significant difference in metastasis-free survival or locoregional recurrence, but the TNT group had better 3-year overall survival than the CRT group (86.5% v 75.1%; P = .033). Treatment effects on DFS and overall survival were similar regardless of prognostic factors. The prevalence of acute grade III-V toxicities during preoperative treatment was 26.5% in the TNT group versus 12.6% in the CRT group ( P < .001).

CONCLUSION: Short-term radiotherapy with preoperative chemotherapy followed by surgery was efficacious with acceptable toxicity and could be used as an alternative to CRT for locally advanced rectal cancer.

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