Radical abdominopelvic lymphadenectomy for rectal cancer is based on the tenet that removal of all potentially involved lymphatic tissue will yield a lower rate of locoregional failure and improve survival. At centers with extensive experience with the procedure, the operating time is only modestly prolonged compared with conventional resection. Blood loss and postoperative hospitalization are not significantly increased. Urinary dysfunction and impotence associated with radical abdominopelvic lymphadenectomy (as high as 80 percent and 76 percent, respectively, in recent series) have been major deterrents to its more routine application. Preservation of the hypogastric plexus and even selective preservation of a unilateral S4 nerve root have been shown to reduce the occurrence of genitourinary complications. Improved five-year survival of 68 percent and local recurrence rates of 5 to 20 percent for TNM Stage III cancers have been achieved with radical abdominopelvic lymphadenectomy. These results compare favorably with recent trials of adjuvant chemoradiation after conventional resection in stage-matched patients. The rationale, evolution, and application of radical abdominopelvic lymphadenectomy to the surgical management of rectal cancer are critically examined. The potential benefits of radical abdominopelvic lymphadenectomy, which have been demonstrated in nonrandomized trials, should be evaluated in a prospective and properly randomized study to clearly establish or refute its efficacy.