Total mesorectal excision lowers the rate of pelvic recurrence and positively affects the survival after surgical treatment of rectal cancer.
Tertiary care university hospital.
Fifty-three consecutive patients were admitted with curative intent to surgery at the First Department of Surgery of the University of Rome "La Sapienza," Rome, Italy, with diagnoses of rectal carcinoma. The mean follow-up was 68.9 months; follow-up was complete for all patients who entered the trial.
Low anterior resection and total mesorectal excision were performed in all cases, regardless of the location of the rectal cancer. A straight mechanical colorectal anastomosis was performed on a rectal stump, never exceeding 5 cm. No kind of adjuvant therapy was given. Mesorectum and open rectum were studied by serial transverse section at 5-mm intervals. A search for depth of penetration and distal intramural extension of the tumor was made. Lymph nodes were detected by clearing method, and nodal metastases (NM) and nonnodal metastases (NNM) were recorded as situated proximally, distally, or at the level of the tumor.
There was no postoperative mortality. Clinical and radiologic leaks occurred in 2 and 4 patients, respectively. Mean disease-free survival was 65.9 months. Pelvic recurrence occurred in 5 patients (9%). Overall 5-year survival rate was 75%. Involvement of mesorectum by NM and NNM was detected in 27 and 24 cases, respectively. Both NM and NNM were found to be distal in 33% and 40% of cases, respectively.
Microscopic spread to the distal mesorectum may exceed the intramural spread of rectal cancer. Failure to perform total mesorectal excision leaves a potentially residual disease in the distal mesorectum, thus predisposing the patient to pelvic recurrence.