Organ preservation has been proposed as an alternative to radical surgery for rectal cancer to reduce morbidity and mortality, and to improve functional outcome.
Locally advanced non-metastatic rectal cancers were identified from a prospective database. Patients staged ⩾T3 or any stage N+ were referred for neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy (CRT) (50-54 Gy and 5-fluorouracil), and were reassessed 6-8 weeks post treatment. An active surveillance programme ('watch and wait') was offered to patients who were found to have a complete endoluminal response. Transanal excision was performed in patients who were found to have an objective clinical response and in whom a residual ulcer measured ⩽3 cm. Patients were followed up clinically, endoscopically and radiologically to assess for local recurrence or disease progression.
Of 785 patients with rectal cancer between 2005 and 2015, 362 had non-metastatic locally advanced tumours treated with neoadjuvant CRT. Sixty out of three hundred and sixty-two (16.5%) patients were treated with organ-preserving strategies - 10 with 'watch and wait' and 50 by transanal excision. Fifteen patients were referred for salvage total mesorectal excision post local excision owing to adverse pathological findings. There was no significant difference in overall survival (85.6% vs 93.3%, P=0.414) or disease-free survival rate (78.3% vs 80%, P=0.846) when the outcomes of radical surgery were compared with organ preservation. Tumour regrowth occurred in 4 out of 45 (8.9%) patients who had organ preservation.
Organ preservation for locally advanced rectal cancer is feasible for selected patients who achieve an objective endoluminal response to neoadjuvant CRT. Transanal excision defines the pathological response and refines decision-making.