Skip to content

    Colorectal Cancer Health Center

    Font Size

    Rectal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - General Information About Rectal Cancer



    The primary goals of postoperative surveillance programs for rectal cancer are the following:[66]

    1. To assess the efficacy of initial therapy.
    2. To detect new or metachronous malignancies.
    3. To detect potentially curable recurrent or metastatic cancers.

    Routine, periodic studies following patients treated for rectal cancer may lead to earlier identification and management of recurrent disease.[66,67,68,69,70] A statistically significant survival benefit has been demonstrated for more intensive follow-up protocols in two clinical trials. A meta-analysis that combined these two trials with four others was reported to show a statistically significant improvement in survival for patients who were intensively followed.[66,71,72] Guidelines for surveillance after initial treatment with curative intent for colorectal cancer vary between leading U.S. and European societies, and optimal surveillance strategies remain uncertain.[73,74] Large, well-designed, prospective, multi-institutional, randomized studies may be required to establish an evidence-based consensus for follow-up evaluation.

    Measurement of CEA, a serum glycoprotein, is frequently used in the management and follow-up of patients with rectal cancer. A review of the use of this tumor marker for rectal cancer suggests the following:[66]

    • Serum CEA testing is not a valuable screening tool for rectal cancer because of its low sensitivity and low specificity.
    • Postoperative CEA testing should be restricted to patients who are potential candidates for further intervention, as follows:
      1. Patients with stage II or III rectal cancer (every 2 to 3 months for at least 2 years after diagnosis).
      2. Patients with rectal cancer who would be candidates for resection of liver metastases.

    In one retrospective study of the Dutch TME trial for the treatment of rectal cancer, investigators found that the preoperative serum CEA level was normal in the majority of patients with rectal cancer, and yet, serum CEA levels rose by at least 50% in patients with recurrence; the authors concluded that serial, postoperative CEA testing cannot be discarded based on a normal preoperative serum CEA level in patients with rectal cancer.[75,76]

    Related Summaries

    Other PDQ summaries containing information related to rectal cancer include the following:

    • Unusual Cancers of Childhood Treatment (colorectal cancer in children).
    • Genetics of Colorectal Cancer.
    • Colorectal Cancer Prevention.
    • Colorectal Cancer Screening.


    1. American Cancer Society: Cancer Facts and Figures 2014. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society, 2014. Available online. Last accessed May 21, 2014.
    2. Parkin DM: Global cancer statistics in the year 2000. Lancet Oncol 2 (9): 533-43, 2001.
    3. Albano JD, Ward E, Jemal A, et al.: Cancer mortality in the United States by education level and race. J Natl Cancer Inst 99 (18): 1384-94, 2007.
    4. Kauh J, Brawley OW, Berger M: Racial disparities in colorectal cancer. Curr Probl Cancer 31 (3): 123-33, 2007 May-Jun.
    5. Kang H, O'Connell JB, Leonardi MJ, et al.: Rare tumors of the colon and rectum: a national review. Int J Colorectal Dis 22 (2): 183-9, 2007.
    6. Wolpin BM, Meyerhardt JA, Mamon HJ, et al.: Adjuvant treatment of colorectal cancer. CA Cancer J Clin 57 (3): 168-85, 2007 May-Jun.
    7. Libutti SK, Willett CG, Saltz LB: Cancer of the rectum. In: DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA: Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2011, pp 1127-41.
    8. Strate LL, Syngal S: Hereditary colorectal cancer syndromes. Cancer Causes Control 16 (3): 201-13, 2005.
    9. Young J, Jenkins M, Parry S, et al.: Serrated pathway colorectal cancer in the population: genetic consideration. Gut 56 (10): 1453-9, 2007.
    10. Syngal S, Fox EA, Li C, et al.: Interpretation of genetic test results for hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer: implications for clinical predisposition testing. JAMA 282 (3): 247-53, 1999.
    11. Locker GY, Kaul K, Weinberg DS, et al.: The I1307K APC polymorphism in Ashkenazi Jews with colorectal cancer: clinical and pathologic features. Cancer Genet Cytogenet 169 (1): 33-8, 2006.
    12. Fuchs CS, Giovannucci EL, Colditz GA, et al.: A prospective study of family history and the risk of colorectal cancer. N Engl J Med 331 (25): 1669-74, 1994.
    13. Weinberg DS, Newschaffer CJ, Topham A: Risk for colorectal cancer after gynecologic cancer. Ann Intern Med 131 (3): 189-93, 1999.
    14. Burstein HJ, Winer EP: Primary care for survivors of breast cancer. N Engl J Med 343 (15): 1086-94, 2000.
    15. Winawer SJ: Screening for colorectal cancer. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology Updates 2(1): 1-16, 1987.
    16. Stein W, Farina A, Gaffney K, et al.: Characteristics of colon cancer at time of presentation. Fam Pract Res J 13 (4): 355-63, 1993.
    17. Majumdar SR, Fletcher RH, Evans AT: How does colorectal cancer present? Symptoms, duration, and clues to location. Am J Gastroenterol 94 (10): 3039-45, 1999.
    18. Schmidt CR, Gollub MJ, Weiser MR: Contemporary imaging for colorectal cancer. Surg Oncol Clin N Am 16 (2): 369-88, 2007.
    19. Siddiqui AA, Fayiga Y, Huerta S: The role of endoscopic ultrasound in the evaluation of rectal cancer. Int Semin Surg Oncol 3: 36, 2006.
    20. Søreide K: Molecular testing for microsatellite instability and DNA mismatch repair defects in hereditary and sporadic colorectal cancers--ready for prime time? Tumour Biol 28 (5): 290-300, 2007.
    21. Zammit M, Jenkins JT, Urie A, et al.: A technically difficult endorectal ultrasound is more likely to be inaccurate. Colorectal Dis 7 (5): 486-91, 2005.
    22. Goldstein MJ, Mitchell EP: Carcinoembryonic antigen in the staging and follow-up of patients with colorectal cancer. Cancer Invest 23 (4): 338-51, 2005.
    23. Das P, Skibber JM, Rodriguez-Bigas MA, et al.: Predictors of tumor response and downstaging in patients who receive preoperative chemoradiation for rectal cancer. Cancer 109 (9): 1750-5, 2007.
    24. Lahaye MJ, Engelen SM, Nelemans PJ, et al.: Imaging for predicting the risk factors--the circumferential resection margin and nodal disease--of local recurrence in rectal cancer: a meta-analysis. Semin Ultrasound CT MR 26 (4): 259-68, 2005.
    25. Balch GC, De Meo A, Guillem JG: Modern management of rectal cancer: a 2006 update. World J Gastroenterol 12 (20): 3186-95, 2006.
    26. Compton CC, Greene FL: The staging of colorectal cancer: 2004 and beyond. CA Cancer J Clin 54 (6): 295-308, 2004 Nov-Dec.
    27. Colon and rectum. In: Edge SB, Byrd DR, Compton CC, et al., eds.: AJCC Cancer Staging Manual. 7th ed. New York, NY: Springer, 2010, pp 143-64.
    28. Nelson H, Petrelli N, Carlin A, et al.: Guidelines 2000 for colon and rectal cancer surgery. J Natl Cancer Inst 93 (8): 583-96, 2001.
    29. Swanson RS, Compton CC, Stewart AK, et al.: The prognosis of T3N0 colon cancer is dependent on the number of lymph nodes examined. Ann Surg Oncol 10 (1): 65-71, 2003 Jan-Feb.
    30. Le Voyer TE, Sigurdson ER, Hanlon AL, et al.: Colon cancer survival is associated with increasing number of lymph nodes analyzed: a secondary survey of intergroup trial INT-0089. J Clin Oncol 21 (15): 2912-9, 2003.
    31. Prandi M, Lionetto R, Bini A, et al.: Prognostic evaluation of stage B colon cancer patients is improved by an adequate lymphadenectomy: results of a secondary analysis of a large scale adjuvant trial. Ann Surg 235 (4): 458-63, 2002.
    32. Tepper JE, O'Connell MJ, Niedzwiecki D, et al.: Impact of number of nodes retrieved on outcome in patients with rectal cancer. J Clin Oncol 19 (1): 157-63, 2001.
    33. Baxter NN, Garcia-Aguilar J: Organ preservation for rectal cancer. J Clin Oncol 25 (8): 1014-20, 2007.
    34. Guillem JG, Cohen AM: Current issues in colorectal cancer surgery. Semin Oncol 26 (5): 505-13, 1999.
    35. Cooper HS, Deppisch LM, Gourley WK, et al.: Endoscopically removed malignant colorectal polyps: clinicopathologic correlations. Gastroenterology 108 (6): 1657-65, 1995.
    36. Seitz U, Bohnacker S, Seewald S, et al.: Is endoscopic polypectomy an adequate therapy for malignant colorectal adenomas? Presentation of 114 patients and review of the literature. Dis Colon Rectum 47 (11): 1789-96; discussion 1796-7, 2004.
    37. Sauer R, Becker H, Hohenberger W, et al.: Preoperative versus postoperative chemoradiotherapy for rectal cancer. N Engl J Med 351 (17): 1731-40, 2004.
    38. Janjan NA, Khoo VS, Abbruzzese J, et al.: Tumor downstaging and sphincter preservation with preoperative chemoradiation in locally advanced rectal cancer: the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center experience. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 44 (5): 1027-38, 1999.
    39. Crane CH, Skibber JM, Birnbaum EH, et al.: The addition of continuous infusion 5-FU to preoperative radiation therapy increases tumor response, leading to increased sphincter preservation in locally advanced rectal cancer. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 57 (1): 84-9, 2003.
    40. Grann A, Minsky BD, Cohen AM, et al.: Preliminary results of preoperative 5-fluorouracil, low-dose leucovorin, and concurrent radiation therapy for clinically resectable T3 rectal cancer. Dis Colon Rectum 40 (5): 515-22, 1997.
    41. Rich TA, Skibber JM, Ajani JA, et al.: Preoperative infusional chemoradiation therapy for stage T3 rectal cancer. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 32 (4): 1025-9, 1995.
    42. Chari RS, Tyler DS, Anscher MS, et al.: Preoperative radiation and chemotherapy in the treatment of adenocarcinoma of the rectum. Ann Surg 221 (6): 778-86; discussion 786-7, 1995.
    43. Hyams DM, Mamounas EP, Petrelli N, et al.: A clinical trial to evaluate the worth of preoperative multimodality therapy in patients with operable carcinoma of the rectum: a progress report of National Surgical Breast and Bowel Project Protocol R-03. Dis Colon Rectum 40 (2): 131-9, 1997.
    44. Bosset JF, Magnin V, Maingon P, et al.: Preoperative radiochemotherapy in rectal cancer: long-term results of a phase II trial. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 46 (2): 323-7, 2000.
    45. Hiotis SP, Weber SM, Cohen AM, et al.: Assessing the predictive value of clinical complete response to neoadjuvant therapy for rectal cancer: an analysis of 488 patients. J Am Coll Surg 194 (2): 131-5; discussion 135-6, 2002.
    46. Lai LL, Fuller CD, Kachnic LA, et al.: Can pelvic radiotherapy be omitted in select patients with rectal cancer? Semin Oncol 33 (6 Suppl 11): S70-4, 2006.
    47. Peeters KC, van de Velde CJ, Leer JW, et al.: Late side effects of short-course preoperative radiotherapy combined with total mesorectal excision for rectal cancer: increased bowel dysfunction in irradiated patients--a Dutch colorectal cancer group study. J Clin Oncol 23 (25): 6199-206, 2005.
    48. Tepper JE, O'Connell M, Niedzwiecki D, et al.: Adjuvant therapy in rectal cancer: analysis of stage, sex, and local control--final report of intergroup 0114. J Clin Oncol 20 (7): 1744-50, 2002.
    49. Gunderson LL, Sargent DJ, Tepper JE, et al.: Impact of T and N stage and treatment on survival and relapse in adjuvant rectal cancer: a pooled analysis. J Clin Oncol 22 (10): 1785-96, 2004.
    50. Weiser MR, Landmann RG, Wong WD, et al.: Surgical salvage of recurrent rectal cancer after transanal excision. Dis Colon Rectum 48 (6): 1169-75, 2005.
    51. Fujita S, Nakanisi Y, Taniguchi H, et al.: Cancer invasion to Auerbach's plexus is an important prognostic factor in patients with pT3-pT4 colorectal cancer. Dis Colon Rectum 50 (11): 1860-6, 2007.
    52. Griffin MR, Bergstralh EJ, Coffey RJ, et al.: Predictors of survival after curative resection of carcinoma of the colon and rectum. Cancer 60 (9): 2318-24, 1987.
    53. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA: Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2011.
    54. Wieder HA, Rosenberg R, Lordick F, et al.: Rectal cancer: MR imaging before neoadjuvant chemotherapy and radiation therapy for prediction of tumor-free circumferential resection margins and long-term survival. Radiology 243 (3): 744-51, 2007.
    55. McLeod HL, Murray GI: Tumour markers of prognosis in colorectal cancer. Br J Cancer 79 (2): 191-203, 1999.
    56. Jen J, Kim H, Piantadosi S, et al.: Allelic loss of chromosome 18q and prognosis in colorectal cancer. N Engl J Med 331 (4): 213-21, 1994.
    57. Lanza G, Matteuzzi M, Gafá R, et al.: Chromosome 18q allelic loss and prognosis in stage II and III colon cancer. Int J Cancer 79 (4): 390-5, 1998.
    58. Roth JA: p53 prognostication: paradigm or paradox? Clin Cancer Res 5 (11): 3345, 1999.
    59. Nishio H, Hamady ZZ, Malik HZ, et al.: Outcome following repeat liver resection for colorectal liver metastases. Eur J Surg Oncol 33 (6): 729-34, 2007.
    60. Edler D, Hallström M, Johnston PG, et al.: Thymidylate synthase expression: an independent prognostic factor for local recurrence, distant metastasis, disease-free and overall survival in rectal cancer. Clin Cancer Res 6 (4): 1378-84, 2000.
    61. Popat S, Chen Z, Zhao D, et al.: A prospective, blinded analysis of thymidylate synthase and p53 expression as prognostic markers in the adjuvant treatment of colorectal cancer. Ann Oncol 17 (12): 1810-7, 2006.
    62. Gryfe R, Kim H, Hsieh ET, et al.: Tumor microsatellite instability and clinical outcome in young patients with colorectal cancer. N Engl J Med 342 (2): 69-77, 2000.
    63. Liersch T, Langer C, Ghadimi BM, et al.: Lymph node status and TS gene expression are prognostic markers in stage II/III rectal cancer after neoadjuvant fluorouracil-based chemoradiotherapy. J Clin Oncol 24 (25): 4062-8, 2006.
    64. Ghadimi BM, Grade M, Difilippantonio MJ, et al.: Effectiveness of gene expression profiling for response prediction of rectal adenocarcinomas to preoperative chemoradiotherapy. J Clin Oncol 23 (9): 1826-38, 2005.
    65. Dignam JJ, Ye Y, Colangelo L, et al.: Prognosis after rectal cancer in blacks and whites participating in adjuvant therapy randomized trials. J Clin Oncol 21 (3): 413-20, 2003.
    66. Abir F, Alva S, Longo WE, et al.: The postoperative surveillance of patients with colon cancer and rectal cancer. Am J Surg 192 (1): 100-8, 2006.
    67. Martin EW Jr, Minton JP, Carey LC: CEA-directed second-look surgery in the asymptomatic patient after primary resection of colorectal carcinoma. Ann Surg 202 (3): 310-7, 1985.
    68. Bruinvels DJ, Stiggelbout AM, Kievit J, et al.: Follow-up of patients with colorectal cancer. A meta-analysis. Ann Surg 219 (2): 174-82, 1994.
    69. Lautenbach E, Forde KA, Neugut AI: Benefits of colonoscopic surveillance after curative resection of colorectal cancer. Ann Surg 220 (2): 206-11, 1994.
    70. Khoury DA, Opelka FG, Beck DE, et al.: Colon surveillance after colorectal cancer surgery. Dis Colon Rectum 39 (3): 252-6, 1996.
    71. Pietra N, Sarli L, Costi R, et al.: Role of follow-up in management of local recurrences of colorectal cancer: a prospective, randomized study. Dis Colon Rectum 41 (9): 1127-33, 1998.
    72. Secco GB, Fardelli R, Gianquinto D, et al.: Efficacy and cost of risk-adapted follow-up in patients after colorectal cancer surgery: a prospective, randomized and controlled trial. Eur J Surg Oncol 28 (4): 418-23, 2002.
    73. Pfister DG, Benson AB 3rd, Somerfield MR: Clinical practice. Surveillance strategies after curative treatment of colorectal cancer. N Engl J Med 350 (23): 2375-82, 2004.
    74. Li Destri G, Di Cataldo A, Puleo S: Colorectal cancer follow-up: useful or useless? Surg Oncol 15 (1): 1-12, 2006.
    75. Kapiteijn E, Kranenbarg EK, Steup WH, et al.: Total mesorectal excision (TME) with or without preoperative radiotherapy in the treatment of primary rectal cancer. Prospective randomised trial with standard operative and histopathological techniques. Dutch ColoRectal Cancer Group. Eur J Surg 165 (5): 410-20, 1999.
    76. Grossmann I, de Bock GH, Meershoek-Klein Kranenbarg WM, et al.: Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) measurement during follow-up for rectal carcinoma is useful even if normal levels exist before surgery. A retrospective study of CEA values in the TME trial. Eur J Surg Oncol 33 (2): 183-7, 2007.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

    Last Updated: May 28, 2015
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
    1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
    1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    Colorectal cancer cells
    The right diagnosis is the most important factor.
    man with a doctor
    Our health check will steer you in the right direction.
    sauteed cherry tomatoes
    Fight cancer one plate at a time.
    doctor and patient
    Colorectal Cancer Therapy
    Colon vs Rectal Cancer
    New Colorectal Treatments
    can lack of sleep affect your immune system
    Cancer Facts Quiz
    Virtual Colonoscopy
    Picture of the Colon
    Vitamin D