Local excision of rectal cancer: What is the evidence?

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Although local excision of rectal cancers is a less morbid alternative to radical resection, its role as a curative procedure is unclear. The role of adjuvant therapy after local excision is also controversial. This review aims to examine current evidence on local excision of rectal cancers and how it fits into the management algorithm for rectal cancer.


A literature review was undertaken through the MEDLINE database and by cross-referencing previous publications, thus identifying 41 studies on curative local excision of rectal cancer published in English. Details of preoperative staging, surgical procedures, adjuvant therapy, follow-up, and outcome measures, including complications, survival data, recurrences, and salvage were examined.


Preoperative staging of rectal cancers is variable. Digital rectal examination and computerized tomography are used in most studies. Endorectal ultrasound is used in some patients in 9 of 41 studies. Local excision preserves anorectal function, and seems to have limited morbidity (0-22 percent). Local excision alone is associated with local recurrences in 9.7 (range, 0-24) percent of T1, 25 (range, 0-67) percent of T2 and 38 (range, 0-100) percent of T3 cancers. The addition of adjuvant chemoradiotherapy after local excision yields local recurrence rates of 9.5 (range, 0-50) percent for T1, 13.6 (range, 0-24) percent for T2, and 13.8 (range, 0-50) percent for T3 cancers. Data on local excision after preoperative chemoradiotherapy for tumor down staging are limited. Factors other than T-stage that lead to higher local recurrence rates after local excision include poor histologic grade, the presence of lymphovascular invasion, and positive margins. Local recurrences after local excision can be surgically salvaged (84 of 114 patients in 15 studies), with a disease-free survival rates between 40 and 100 percent at a follow-up of 0.1 to 13.5 years.


Local excision for rectal cancers is associated with a low morbidity and provides satisfactory local control and disease-free survival rates for T1 rectal cancers. There is, however, a need for a randomized, controlled trial for T2 cancers, comparing local excision with adjuvant chemoradiotherapy to radical resection.

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