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Preoperative Multimodality Therapy Improves Disease-Free Survival In Patients With Carcinoma Of The Rectum: NSABP R-03

Mark S. Roh, Linda H. Colangelo, Michael J. O'Connell, Greg Yothers, Melvin Deutsch, Carmen J. Allegra, Morton S. Kahlenberg, Luis Baez-Diaz, Carol S. Ursiny, Nicholas J. Petrelli, Norman Wolmark

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Purpose Although chemoradiotherapy plus resection is considered standard treatment for operable rectal carcinoma, the optimal time to administer this therapy is not clear. The NSABP R-03 (National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project R-03) trial compared neoadjuvant versus adjuvant chemoradiotherapy in the treatment of locally advanced rectal carcinoma. Patients and Methods Patients with clinical T3 or T4 or node-positive rectal cancer were randomly assigned to preoperative or postoperative chemoradiotherapy. Chemotherapy consisted of fluorouracil and leucovorin with 45 Gy in 25 fractions with a 5.40-Gy boost within the original margins of treatment. In the preoperative group, surgery was performed within 8 weeks after completion of radiotherapy. In the postoperative group, chemotherapy began after recovery from surgery but no later than 4 weeks after surgery. The primary end points were disease-free survival (DFS) and overall survival (OS). Results From August 1993 to June 1999, 267 patients were randomly assigned to NSABP R-03. The intended sample size was 900 patients. Excluding 11 ineligible and two eligible patients without follow-up data, the analysis used data on 123 patients randomly assigned to preoperative and 131 to postoperative chemoradiotherapy. Surviving patients were observed for a median of 8.4 years. The 5-year DFS for preoperative patients was 64.7% v 53.4% for postoperative patients (P = .011). The 5-year OS for preoperative patients was 74.5% v 65.6% for postoperative patients (P = .065). A complete pathologic response was achieved in 15% of preoperative patients. No preoperative patient with a complete pathologic response has had a recurrence. Conclusion Preoperative chemoradiotherapy, compared with postoperative chemoradiotherapy, significantly improved DFS and showed a trend toward improved OS.