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With the increase in sphincter preserving rate of rectal cancer (RC) cancer, postoperative quality-of-life, such as genital dysfunction, has become a major issue in the patient management. In this study, we proposed a measurement, namely, the sphincter preserving length (SPL), and investigated the relationship between SPL and postoperative genital function and survival in RC patients.A total of 536 male patients who had a diagnosis of RC and underwent sphincter preserving rectal resection in the Sixth Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University and the First Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University between October 1997 and December 2013 were included in our study. SPL was defined as the distance between the lowest edge of the tumor to dentate line. Postoperative genital function was evaluated by erection function and ejaculation function. Five-year survival status was extracted from the hospital database.Larger SPL was significantly associated with poorer postoperative erection and ejaculation function. For a SPL of 7.25 cm, the sensitivity and specificity of the diagnosis of erection dysfunction was 68.6% and 68.8%, respectively. The corresponding sensitivity and specificity for the diagnosis of ejaculation dysfunction was 70.9% and 75.7%, respectively. SPL was also negatively associated with survival rate. Compared with lower anterior resection, patients with lower RC who underwent local resection or draw-out colon-anal anastomosis had better postoperative genital function.SPL might be a useful measurement to assess the risk of postoperative genital dysfunction and survival status and an indicator for initiation of early preventative treatment in patients with RC.