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Short Course of Radiation Fights Rectal Cancer

Study Shows Five Days of Treatment Cuts Risk of Cancer’s Return

New Surgical Technique

Marijnen says the introduction of a new surgical technique that is being used more and more in both the U.S. and Europe prompted the study.

In the past, "surgeons pulled out just the rectum. Then studies showed total mesorectal excision (TME), in which surgeons remove the whole rectum plus the fat around it, reduces the risk of local recurrence even further," she says.

However, the impact of giving radiation prior to TME had not been examined, Marijnen says.

"These results demonstrate that good surgery absolutely is necessary and then radiotherapy can definitely add to the prevention of local recurrence," she says.

Willett says the findings "show the need for continuing education so TME is integrated into standard practice."

Radiation therapy does carry risks, chiefly temporary fatigue and transient skin reactions similar to sunburns during treatment. Later, there is a very small risk of secondary cancer or radiation-induced heart or lung disease.

This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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