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Local recurrence after surgery for rectal cancer is associated with significant morbidity and debilitating symptoms. Intraoperative rectal washout has been linked to a reduction in local recurrence but there is no conclusive evidence. The aim of this study was to evaluate whether performing rectal washout had any effect on the incidence of local recurrence in patients undergoing anterior resection for rectal cancer in the context of the current surgical management.A total of 395 consecutive patients who underwent anterior resection with or without rectal washout for rectal cancer between January 2003 and July 2009 at a high volume single institution were analysed retrospectively. A standardised process for performing washout was used and all patients had standardised surgery in the form of total mesorectal excision. Neoadjuvant and adjuvant therapy was used on a selected basis. Patients were followed up for five years and local recurrence rates were compared in the two groups.Of the 395 patients, 297 had rectal washout and 98 did not. Both groups were well matched with regard to various important clinical, operative and histopathological characteristics. Overall, the local recurrence rate was 5.3%. There was no significant difference in the incidence of local recurrence between the washout group (5.7%) and the no washout group (4.1%).Among our cohort of patients, there was no statistical difference in the incidence of local recurrence after anterior resection with or without rectal washout. This suggests that other factors are more significant in the development of local recurrence.