Management of Rectal Cancer: Short- vs. Long-Course Preoperative Radiation

      There is considerable debate on the optimum approach to neoadjuvant therapy in rectal cancer. This review of major published studies of short-course preoperative radiation and the more conventional approach of long-course neoadjuvant chemoradiation was undertaken in an effort to understand the potential advantages and disadvantages of each of these approaches. Studies were evaluated with regard to patient selection, clinical outcomes, and toxicities. Short-course preoperative radiation has shown a clear advantage over surgery alone in reducing local recurrence rates and improving survival of patients with rectal cancer. However, studies using short-course preoperative treatment have included a significant number of early (30%; Stage I/II) and more proximal cancers yet appear to have higher positive margin rates, higher abdominoperineal resection rates, and lower aggregate survival than patients treated with long-course neoadjuvant chemoradiation. Although long-course preoperative chemoradiation is associated with higher rates of reversible acute toxicity, there appears to be more significant and a higher rate of late gastrointestinal toxicity observed in short-course preoperative radiation studies. Patient convenience and lower cost of treatment, however, can be a significant advantage in using a short-course treatment schedule. Selective utilization of either of these approaches should be based on extent of disease and goals of treatment. Patients with distal cancers or more advanced disease (T3/T4) appear to have better outcomes with neoadjuvant chemoradiation, especially where downstaging of disease is critical for more complete surgical resection and sphincter preservation.
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