adiation therapy before surgery increases survival without increasing long-term complications for patients with rectal cancer, according to a 10-year study at Tufts University presented at the recent meeting of the American Radium Society. Resection alone was the standard treatment for these patients when the study began in 1972.
The overall 10-year survival rate for patients treated with radiation therapy plus resection was 74%, said Dr. William P. Reed, Professor of Surgery at Tufts University School of Medicine at the Western Campus in Springfield, Massachusetts. The 10-year survival rate was 41% for patients who underwent resection alone, he said.
"The patients who had their tumor completely removed (about 75% of the 149 patients), had even better survival rates, Dr. Reed told the American Radium Society at its annual meeting in Paris. The 10-year survival rate for patients in this subgroup was 80% for those treated with radiation and surgery, and 45% for those treated with surgery alone, he said.
In addition, patients who had radiation therapy were about a third less likely to have their disease return locally, compared to patients treated by surgery alone, according to Dr. Reed.
Physicians have been reluctant to treat these patients with full-dose radiation therapy before surgery because they were concerned that additional complications could occur, said Dr. Reed, who is also Director of Surgical Oncology at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. The study found that long-term complications from radiation therapy were minimal,he said.