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BACKGROUND: Neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NAC) allows earlier treatment of rectal cancer micro-metastases but is not standard of care. There are currently no biomarkers predicting long-term progression-free survival (PFS) benefit from NAC. PATIENTS AND METHODS: In this single arm phase II trial, patients with non-metastatic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-defined operable rectal adenocarcinoma at high risk of post-operative metastatic recurrence, received 8 weeks of oxaliplatin/fluorouracil NAC then short-course preoperative radiotherapy (SCPRT) before immediate surgery. Sixteen weeks of post-operative adjuvant chemotherapy (AC) was planned. A pelvic MRI was performed at week 9 immediately post-NAC, before SCPRT. The primary end point was feasibility assessed by completion of protocol treatment up to and including surgery. Secondary endpoints included compliance, toxicity, downstaging efficacy, and PFS. RESULTS: In total 60 patients were recruited May 2012-June 2014. In total 57 patients completed protocol treatment, meeting the primary endpoint. Compliance with NAC was much better than AC: Comparing NAC vs. AC, the median percentage dose intensity for fluoropyrimidine was 100% vs. 63% and for oxaliplatin 100% vs. 45%. Treatment-related toxicity was acceptable with no treatment-related deaths. Post-NAC MRI showed 44 tumours (73%) were T-downstaged and 22 (37%) had excellent MRI tumour regression grade (mrTRG 1-2). Median follow-up was 27 months with 2-year PFS of 86.2% (10 events). On exploratory analysis, post-NAC mrTRG predicted PFS with no event among those with excellent regression. CONCLUSION: The regimen was well tolerated with effective downstaging and encouraging PFS. mrTRG response to NAC may be a new prognostic factor for long-term PFS, but needs validation in larger studies.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Cancer

Publication Date





697 - 706