BACKGROUND: The standard approach for locally advanced rectal cancer (LARC) is neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy (nCRT) followed by total mesorectal excision (TME). After nCRT 20% of patients achieve a clinical complete response (pCR) and could be treated with a non-operative management (NOM).
METHODS: The panel of the Italian Association of Medical Oncology (AIOM) Guidelines on rectal cancer applied the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) approach addressing the following question: Should NOM vs. TME be used for patients with rectal cancer with clinical complete response after nCRT? Five outcomes were identified: disease-free survival (DFS), mortality, local recurrence, colostomy rate, and functional outcomes.
RESULTS: Nine studies were included in the analysis. A higher risk of disease recurrence was observed in the NOM group compared to the TME group (RR = 1.69, 95% CI 1.08, 2.64) on the other hand, we observed a slightly positive but not significant effect on mortality of NOM (RR = 0.82, 95% CI 0.46, 1.45). Patients in the NOM group were more likely to experience local recurrence (RR = 5.37, 95% CI 2.56, 11.27) and patients in the TME group were more likely to have a permanent colostomy (RR = 0.15, 95% CI 0.08, 0.29). Only one study evaluated functional outcomes. The overall certainty of evidence was rated as very low.
CONCLUSIONS: NOM was found to correlate with a higher risk of local recurrence which did not translate in worse OS and a lower colostomy rate. Due to the paucity of evidences, no recommendations are possible. NOM remains an experimental treatment; thus, patients managed with NOM should be enrolled in clinical trials with a dedicated follow-up schedule.