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Ann Surg Oncol. 2013 Nov;20(12):3877-84. doi: 10.1245/s10434-013-3173-5. Epub 2013 Aug 2.

Relative survival is an adequate estimate of cancer-specific survival: baseline mortality-adjusted 10-year survival of 771 rectal cancer patients.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Kantonsspital St. Gallen, St. Gallen, Switzerland,



The objective of the present investigation is to assess the baseline mortality-adjusted 10-year survival of rectal cancer patients.


Ten-year survival was analyzed in 771 consecutive American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) stage I-IV rectal cancer patients undergoing open resection between 1991 and 2008 using risk-adjusted Cox proportional hazard regression models adjusting for population-based baseline mortality.


The median follow-up of patients alive was 8.8 years. The 10-year relative, overall, and cancer-specific survival were 66.5% [95% confidence interval (CI) 61.3-72.1], 48.7% (95% CI 44.9-52.8), and 66.4% (95% CI 62.5-70.5), respectively. In the entire patient sample (stage I-IV) 47.3% and in patients with stage I-III 33.6 % of all deaths were related to rectal cancer during the 10-year period. For patients with AJCC stage I rectal cancer, the 10-year overall survival was 96% and did not significantly differ from an average population after matching for gender, age, and calendar year (p = 0.151). For the more advanced tumor stages, however, survival was significantly impaired (p < 0.001).


Retrospective investigations of survival after rectal cancer resection should adjust for baseline mortality because a large fraction of deaths is not cancer related. Stage I rectal cancer patients, compared to patients with more advanced disease stages, have a relative survival close to 100% and can thus be considered cured. Using this relative-survival approach, the real public health burden caused by rectal cancer can reliably be analyzed and reported.

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