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Circumferential resection margin (CRM) involvement (R1) is used to audit rectal cancer surgical quality. However, when downsizing chemoradiation (dCRT) is used, CRM audits both dCRT and surgery, its use reflecting a high casemix of locally advanced tumours. We aimed to evaluate predictors of R1 and benchmark R1 rates in the dCRT era, and to assess the influence of failure of steps in the multidisciplinary team (MDT) process to CRM involvement.A retrospective analysis of prospectively collected rectal cancer data was undertaken. Patients were classified according to CRM status. Uni- and multivariate analysis was undertaken of risk factors for R1 resection. The contribution of the steps of the MDT process to CRM involvement was assessed.Two hundred and ten rectal cancers were evaluated (68% T3 or T4 on preoperative staging). R1 (microscopic) and R2 (macroscopic) resections occurred in 20 (10%) and 6 patients (3%), respectively. Of several factors associated with R1 resections on univariate analysis, only total mesorectal excision (TME) specimen defects and threatened/involved CRM on preoperative imaging remained as independent predictors of R1 resections on multivariate analysis. Causes of R1 failure by MDT step classification found that less than half were associated with and only 15% solely attributable to a suboptimal TME specimen.Total mesorectal excision specimen defects and staging-predicted threatened or involved CRM are independent strong predictors of R1 resections. In most R1 resections, the TME specimen was intact. It is important to remember the contribution of both the local staging casemix and dCRT failure when using R1 rates to assess purely surgical competence.