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In 1996, rectal cancer surgery in the Swedish county of Västmanland was centralized to a single colorectal unit. At the same time, total mesorectal excision and multidisciplinary team meetings were introduced. The aim of this audit was to determine the long-term results before and after centralization.All consecutive rectal cancer patients who underwent curative or palliative surgery at one of the county's four hospitals between 1993 and 1996 (n = 133, group 1) were compared with patients operated at the new centralized colorectal unit between 1996 and 1999 (n = 144, group 2).Preoperative radiotherapy was common in both groups, but in group 2, it was planned using MRI. Local recurrences were detected in 8% of all patients operated in group 1 vs 3.5% in group 2 (P = 0.043). The overall 5-year survival for all patients in group 1 was 38 vs 62% in group 2 (P = 0.003). According to multivariate analysis, the new colorectal unit was an independent predictor for improved long-term survival.This population-based audit shows reduced local recurrence rate and prolonged overall survival for rectal cancer patients after centralization to a single colorectal unit with multidisciplinary management and increased subspecialization.