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At the beginning of the century, rectal cancer was a deadly disease treated simply by perineal excision. With advances in pathologic staging, preoperative assessment, surgical technique, and CMT made in the last century, we have witnessed improved oncologic and functional results after treatment of rectal cancer. As we look to the future, the use of molecular markers may help identify patients with node-negative disease yet aggressive biology in need of adjuvant therapy. It is also anticipated that improvements in various imaging modalities may better select patients for local procedures or preoperative adjuvant therapy. Further-more, ongoing progress in our understanding of pelvic anatomy and neurophysiology should improve preservation of both genitourinary and sphincter function.