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World J Gastroenterol. 2011 Feb 21;17(7):848-54. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v17.i7.848.

Neoadjuvant vs adjuvant pelvic radiotherapy for locally advanced rectal cancer: Which is superior?

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  • 1Department of Surgery, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85724, USA.


The treatment of locally advanced rectal cancer including timing and dosage of radiotherapy, degree of sphincter preservation with neoadjuvant radiotherapy, and short and long term effects of radiotherapy are controversial topics. The MEDLINE, Cochrane Library databases, and meeting proceedings from the American Society of Clinical Oncology, were searched for reports of randomized controlled trials and meta-analyses comparing neoadjuvant and adjuvant radiotherapy with surgery to surgery alone for rectal cancer. Neoadjuvant radiotherapy shows superior results in terms of local control compared to adjuvant radiotherapy. Neither adjuvant or neoadjuvant radiotherapy impacts overall survival. Short course versus long course neoadjuvant radiotherapy remains controversial. There is insufficient data to conclude that neoadjuvant therapy improves rates of sphincter preserving surgery. Radiation significantly impacts anorectal and sexual function and includes both acute and long term toxicity. Data demonstrate that neoadjuvant radiation causes less toxicity compared to adjuvant radiotherapy, and specifically short course neoadjuvant radiation results in less toxicity than long course neoadjuvant radiation. Neoadjuvant radiotherapy is the preferred modality for administering radiation in locally advanced rectal cancer. There are significant side effects from radiation, including anorectal and sexual dysfunction, which may be less with short course neoadjuvant radiation.


Adjuvant radiation; Chemoradiotherapy; Locally advanced rectal cancer; Neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy; Neoadjuvant radiation; Rectal neoplasm

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