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Rectal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Treatment Option Overview

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In Europe, it is common to deliver preoperative radiation therapy alone in one week (5 Gy x 5 daily treatments) followed by surgery one week later, as compared to the long-course chemoradiation approach in the United States. One reason for this difference is the concern in the U.S. for heightened late effects with high radiation doses per fraction.

A Polish study randomly assigned 316 patients between preoperative long course chemoradiation (50.4 Gy in 28 daily fractions with 5-FU and LV) and short-course preoperative radiation therapy (25 Gy in 5 fractions).[47] Although the primary endpoint was sphincter preservation, late toxicity was not statistically significantly different between the two treatment approaches (7% long course vs. 10% short course). Of note, data on anal sphincter and sexual function were not reported, and toxicity was physician determined, not patient reported.

Ongoing clinical trials comparing preoperative and postoperative adjuvant chemoradiation therapy should further clarify the impact of either approach on bowel function and other important quality-of-life issues (e.g., sphincter preservation) in addition to the more conventional endpoints of DFS and OS.

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Last Updated: February 25, 2014
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