Beginning in 1992, doctors in France enrolled 733 patients suffering from rectal cancer into the study. The patients were split into two groups the first received radiation alone for five weeks before undergoing surgery to remove the cancer. The second group received chemotherapy in addition to five weeks of radiation therapy prior to surgery.
"The standard treatment for rectal cancer has been radiation therapy alone before surgery, but this is the first randomized study to prove that adding chemotherapy to the treatment helps patients beat their cancer," said Pascale Romestaing, M.D., co-author of the study and a radiation oncologist at CHU Lyon Sud in Lyon, France.
The doctors discovered that while combining radiation therapy and chemotherapy does not significantly increase survival rates, it does improve local tumor control and helps to keep the cancer from returning. The last phase of the trial, from 1999 to 2003, showed that only eight percent of the patients saw their cancer return five years after receiving treatment.
"This treatment should be recommended as the standard for the majority of rectal cancer patients," said Jean-Pierre Gerard, M.D., lead author of the study and a radiation oncologist at the Centre Antoine-Lacassagne in Nice, France.
Contact: Beth Bukata
American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology