Neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NAC) allows earlier treatment of rectal cancer micro-metastases but is not standard of care. There are currently no biomarkers predicting long-term progression-free survival (PFS) benefit from NAC.
Patients and methods
In this single arm phase II trial, patients with non-metastatic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-defined operable rectal adenocarcinoma at high risk of post-operative metastatic recurrence, received 8 weeks of oxaliplatin/fluorouracil NAC then short-course preoperative radiotherapy (SCPRT) before immediate surgery. Sixteen weeks of post-operative adjuvant chemotherapy (AC) was planned. A pelvic MRI was performed at week 9 immediately post-NAC, before SCPRT. The primary end point was feasibility assessed by completion of protocol treatment up to and including surgery. Secondary endpoints included compliance, toxicity, downstaging efficacy, and PFS.
In total 60 patients were recruited May 2012–June 2014. In total 57 patients completed protocol treatment, meeting the primary endpoint. Compliance with NAC was much better than AC: Comparing NAC vs. AC, the median percentage dose intensity for fluoropyrimidine was 100% vs. 63% and for oxaliplatin 100% vs. 45%. Treatment-related toxicity was acceptable with no treatment-related deaths. Post-NAC MRI showed 44 tumours (73%) were T-downstaged and 22 (37%) had excellent MRI tumour regression grade (mrTRG 1–2). Median follow-up was 27 months with 2-year PFS of 86.2% (10 events). On exploratory analysis, post-NAC mrTRG predicted PFS with no event among those with excellent regression.
The regimen was well tolerated with effective downstaging and encouraging PFS. mrTRG response to NAC may be a new prognostic factor for long-term PFS, but needs validation in larger studies.
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