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Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2002 Feb 1;52(2):294-303.

Apoptosis as a cellular predictor for histopathologic response to neoadjuvant radiochemotherapy in patients with rectal cancer.

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Department of Radiation Therapy, University of Erlangen, Erlangen, Germany.



Tumor shrinkage by preoperative radiochemotherapy (RCT) can markedly improve surgery in locally advanced (T4) rectal cancer with clear resection margins and may enable sphincter preservation in low-lying tumors. However, tumor response varies considerably, even among tumors treated according to the same protocol. If one is able to identify patients with highly radio-responsive tumors at the time of diagnosis, a selective and individualized policy of preoperative RCT might be pursued.


The apoptotic index (AI), Ki-67, p53, and bcl-2 were evaluated by immunohistochemistry on pretreatment biopsies from 44 patients treated uniformly according to a prospective neoadjuvant RCT protocol (CAO/AIO/ARO-94). Treatment response was assessed histopathologically in the resected surgical specimen, using a five-point grading system. Expression of each marker was correlated with tumor response and relapse-free survival after curative surgery.


Tumors with complete (n = 3) or good (n = 28) response to RCT showed significantly higher pretreatment levels of apoptosis (mean AI: 2.06%) than tumors with moderate (n = 7), minimal (n = 5), or no regression (n = 1) from RCT (AI: 1.44%, p = 0.003). The AI was significantly related to Ki-67 (p = 0.05), but not to p53 and bcl-2 status. Tumor regression and AI best predicted relapse-free survival after combined modality treatment and curative surgery.


Spontaneous apoptosis in rectal cancer may serve as an important predictor of tumor regression from RCT in rectal cancer and as a significant prognosticator of relapse-free survival. Thus, this molecular marker may finally help to tailor therapy with regard to (neo-) adjuvant treatment of rectal cancer.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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