Predicting response to neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy in locally advanced rectal cancer with serum biomarkers

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The aim of this study was to identify patient factors including serum biomarkers that may predict response to neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy (CRT) in patients with locally advanced rectal cancer staged on magnetic resonance imaging. Prediction of response may be helpful when selecting patients for a non-operative programme.


A retrospective review was carried out of patients undergoing neoadjuvant CRT for rectal cancer, conducted at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. All patients were managed through the multidisciplinary team. Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve analysis was undertaken to assess the ability of biomarkers to predict response to neoadjuvant CRT. The biomarkers assessed included neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, haemoglobin, platelets, C-reactive protein and carcinoembryonic antigen.


Seventy-three patients underwent neoadjuvant CRT between January 2006 and December 2011. Nine (12.3%) of these experienced a clinical complete response and were managed with a ‘watch and wait’ approach. An additional ten patients (13.7%) had a pathological complete response following surgery. Using ROC curve analysis, the biomarkers with the largest area under the curve (AUC) were pre-CRT haemoglobin and post-CRT lymphocyte concentrations, producing AUC values of 0.673 and 0.618 respectively for clinical complete response. Pre-CRT haemoglobin and neutrophil concentrations produced the highest AUC values for pathological complete response at 0.591 and 0.614 respectively.


None of the assessed biomarkers offer the ability to predict response to neoadjuvant CRT in patients with rectal cancer. They cannot therefore assist in identifying complete clinical or pathological responders who could be considered for a non-operative, observational approach.

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