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Interpretation of Complete Tumor Response on MRI Following Chemoradiotherapy of Rectal Cancer: Inter-Reader Agreement and Associated Factors in Multi-Center Clinical Practice.

OBJECTIVE: To measure inter-reader agreement and identify associated factors in interpreting complete response (CR) on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) following chemoradiotherapy (CRT) for rectal cancer.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: This retrospective study involved 10 readers from seven hospitals with experience of 80-10210 cases, and 149 patients who underwent surgery after CRT for rectal cancer. Using MRI-based tumor regression grading (mrTRG) and methods employed in daily practice, the readers independently assessed mrTRG, CR on T2-weighted images (T2WI) denoted as mrCRT2W , and CR on all images including diffusion-weighted images (DWI) denoted as mrCRoverall . The readers described their interpretation patterns and how they utilized DWI. Inter-reader agreement was measured using multi-rater kappa, and associated factors were analyzed using multivariable regression. Correlation between sensitivity and specificity of each reader was analyzed using Spearman coefficient.

RESULTS: The mrCRT2W and mrCRoverall rates varied widely among the readers, ranging 18.8%-40.3% and 18.1%-34.9%, respectively. Nine readers used DWI as a supplement sequence, which modified interpretations on T2WI in 2.7% of cases (36/1341 [149 patients × 9 readers]) and mostly (33/36) changed mrCRT2W to non-mrCRoverall . The kappa values for mrTRG, mrCRT2W , and mrCRoverall were 0.56 (95% confidence interval: 0.49, 0.62), 0.55 (0.52, 0.57), and 0.54 (0.51, 0.57), respectively. No use of rectal gel, larger initial tumor size, and higher initial cT stage exhibited significant association with a higher inter-reader agreement for assessing mrCRoverall ( P ≤ 0.042). Strong negative correlations were observed between the sensitivity and specificity of individual readers (coefficient, -0.718 to -0.963; P ≤ 0.019).

CONCLUSION: Inter-reader agreement was moderate for assessing CR on post-CRT MRI. Readers' varying standards on MRI interpretation (i.e., threshold effect), along with the use of rectal gel, initial tumor size, and initial cT stage, were significant factors associated with inter-reader agreement.

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