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Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2017 Sep 1;99(1):111-127. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2017.05.023. Epub 2017 May 22.

High-Dose-Rate Brachytherapy in the Management of Operable Rectal Cancer: A Systematic Review.

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Department of Oncology, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridge, UK.
Department of Oncology, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridge, UK. Electronic address:



To evaluate the role of high-dose-rate endorectal brachytherapy (HDREBT) in the preoperative and definitive management of operable rectal cancer in terms of clinical outcomes and toxicities using a systematic review.


A review of published articles from January 1990 to December 2016 was conducted using the PubMed, Embase, and Scopus databases using the search terms "rectal" or "rectum" in combination with "brachytherapy," "high dose rate," "HDR," and "endorectal." Additional publications were identified by scanning references. Only studies published in English reporting clinical outcomes with ≥30 patients treated with HDREBT were included.


The search identified 1688 articles, of which 22 met our inclusion criteria. Twelve studies were included in this systematic review. Following preoperative HDREBT with chemoradiation therapy (CRT), the pathologic complete response (pCR) rate ranged between 18% and 31% (weighted mean rate, 22.2%); R0 resection rate, between 80% and 99% (weighted mean rate, 95.5%); and sphincter-preservation rate, between 29% and 54% (weighted mean rate, 46.4%). The weighted mean 2-year progression-free survival and overall survival (OS) rates were 68.1% and 81.5%, respectively. After preoperative HDREBT alone, the pCR rate ranged between 10.4% and 27% (weighted mean rate, 23.8%), the R0 rate was 96.5% (1 study), and the sphincter-preservation rate ranged between 53.8% and 75.8% (weighted mean rate, 59.4%). The weighted mean 5-year progression-free survival and OS rates were 66.6% and 70.8%, respectively. There was only 1 study of HDREBT for nonsurgical management of rectal cancer, which reported a 2-year OS rate of 100%.


Preoperative HDREBT either alone or in combination with CRT may result in a better pCR but may not necessarily translate into better survival, which is similar to outcomes seen following preoperative CRT alone. There were significant variations across studies in terms of patient selection, treatment approaches, and evaluation of clinical outcomes, suggesting the need for an international consensus on the dosimetric parameters and techniques of HDREBT, timing and methods of response assessment, definitions and assessment of toxicities, and optimal timing of surgery before further prospective studies. Future studies should include evaluation of the role of HDREBT in the nonsurgical curative treatment of screen-detected early cancers and organ preservation in lower rectal cancers.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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