OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to determine whether radical surgery in appropriately selected patients who have recurrent rectal cancer can produce significant disease-free survival. PATIENTS AND METHODS: This is a retrospective review of the management of all patients presenting with recurrent local and metastatic rectal cancer at a single institution during an 11-year period. RESULTS: Of 489 patients who underwent curative surgery for primary rectal cancer during the period reviewed, 44 (9 percent) developed recurrent disease at a median interval of 18 (range, 3-60) months after curative surgery. Local pelvic recurrence alone was present in 28 (5.7 percent) patients. Overall survival after diagnosis of recurrent disease was 41 percent (18/44) at a median interval of 15 (range, 2-60) months. Curative resection was performed in 14 (32 percent) patients with a disease-free survival of 86 percent (12/14) at a median of 25 (range, 9-60) months after curative surgery. In comparison, survival in patients who underwent palliative treatment was significantly less (25 vs. 12 months; P < 0.05; 95 percent confidence interval, 10, 23 (Mann-Whitney U test)); 20 percent survival at a median of 12 months ranged from 2 to 36 after diagnosis of recurrent disease. Of six patients in the curative group who developed second recurrences, four underwent further curative surgery and are disease-free at a median of 19.5 (range, 12-29) months after surgery. Palliative surgery provided good symptomatic relief and improved quality of life in 11 patients in the palliative group, although there was no survival advantage over those who underwent nonsurgical palliative treatment (n = 19). CONCLUSION: In appropriately selected cases, aggressive surgical therapy produces significant disease-free survival in patients with recurrent rectal cancer.
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