Radical surgery for extensive rectal cancer: is it worthwhile?

F. L. Moffat, R. E. Falk

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


In a small proportion of patients with extensive primary or locally recurrent rectal cancer, disease remains confined to the pelvis for a prolonged period. Symptoms are highly prejudicial to quality of life and often refractory to treatment short of extirpative surgery. Cure requires en bloc excision of all involved pelvic viscera with tumor-free margins. The pelvic exenterations (PE) are the most radical operations for rectal cancer. PE carries a high risk of perioperative morbidity and mortality, and has profound functional, psychological, and psychosexual implications for patients. Careful preoperative counseling regarding surgical risks and the impact of PE on body function and image is indispensable; the patient's consent must be truly informed. Patients with major medical or psychiatric/emotional comorbidity and those who are mentally incompetent are not candidates. Tenesmus and central pelvic/perineal pain are amenable to PE whereas radicular pain is not; sciatica and lower extremity lymphedema portend unresectability. Extrapelvic disease should be excluded preoperatively. While invaded sacrum can be resected en bloc with involved viscera (sacropelvic exenteration), fixity of tumor to the pelvic sidewall(s) in nonirradiated patients almost invariably implies unresectability. Other contraindications to PE include invasion of the proximal (S1 or higher) lumbosacral spine or lumbosacral plexus/sciatic nerves, ureteric obstruction proximal to the ureterovesical junctions, and encasement of the external or common iliac vessels by tumor. PE for advanced primary rectal carcinoma yields 5-year survival of over 40%; when performed for recurrent disease, long-term salvage rates are not as high. While radical surgery is rarely indicated for palliation, PE in carefully selected (good performance status and life expectancy, complete excision of all gross disease) incurable patients results in abrogation of disabling symptoms and reasonable intervals of high-quality survival.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-83
Number of pages13
JournalRecent results in cancer research. Fortschritte der Krebsforschung. Progrès dans les recherches sur le cancer
StatePublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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