Radiotherapy and oral capecitabine in the preoperative treatment of patients with rectal cancer: Rationale, preliminary results and perspectives

Renzo Corvò, Ilaria Pastrone, Tindaro Scolaro, Michela Marcenaro, Laura Berretta, Silvana Chiara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Preoperative radiotherapy alone or combined with chemotherapy increases the chances of tumor down-staging and down-sizing and facilitates sphincter-sparing surgical procedures, thereby improving survival and quality of life. Though several innovative agents are being investigated in combination with radiotherapy, 5-fluorouracil in continuous infusion remains the common schedule used in the preoperative chemoradiation setting. However, the protracted venous infusion of 5-fluorouracil requires specialized pumps and long-term venous access, which makes patients susceptible to infections or thrombosis. To overcome the 5-fluorouracil infusion-related problems, oral 5-fluorouracil precursors and inhibitors of 5-fluorouracil degradation have been developed and explored. These include oral fluoropyrimidines such as tegafur (florafur), uracil plus tegafur (UFT), S-1, eniluracil and the oral carbamate capecitabine. Phase I trials have demonstrated the feasibility of the capecitabine-radiotherapy combination with respect to the bolus or infusion 5-fluorouracil-radiation approach and have defined the optimal dose of capecitabine during radiotherapy (825 mg/m2/day through a bid administration). Severe hand-foot syndrome occurred in 7-15% of patients, representing the most commonly observed toxicity. It is noteworthy that severe diarrhea with capecitabine during radiotherapy was not common. Leukopenia frequently occurred but was mild and reversible. Phase II trials, although limited in number, have evidenced a high probability of pathological complete response (up to 31%) with capecitabine and radiation, with an increased probability of sphincter-sparing surgical procedures. Although it is too early to assess whether oral capecitabine will be able to replace iv 5-fluorouracil in combination with preoperative radiotherapy, the NSABP will address this question in a large randomized trial. Finally, phase I-II trials evaluating escalating doses of capecitabine associated with oxaliplatin or irinotecan with radiotherapy are being carried out to assess the maximum-dose tolerance and efficacy in the preoperative setting. It is likely that these new chemoradiation associations might increase rectal cancer clearance, hopefully without increasing toxicity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-367
Number of pages7
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2003


  • Capecitabine
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Rectal cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research


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