What is it?

To reduce the chance that malignant rectal cancer returns in the same place (so-called recurrent cancer), radiation therapy is sometimes applied prior to the operation. Tumour cells that attempt to move away from the original tumour (e.g. through the lymph vessels) will be neutralised as much as possible through this radiation therapy. The cancerous tumour itself is often slightly reduced too, which increases the chance of tumour-free margins in the eventual operation.

For tumours very low in the rectum or very large tumours, long-term radiation therapy for the rectum will be opted for (this will last for six weeks and will be combined with chemotherapy to render the tumour extra-susceptible to radiotherapy). After such a long radiation therapy cycle, a break of at least six to eight weeks will be scheduled before performing the operation.

For tumours higher up in the rectum, a five-day ‘short’ radiation therapy cycle is sometimes chosen, whereby a higher dose is administered each day. In this case, the surgical procedure is performed in the week following the radiation therapy.

Radiotherapy or radiation as the sole treatment of rectal cancer (so without additional surgery) is only applied in exceptional cases. At present, we cannot consider this therapeutic option to be an equal alternative for surgery.

Latest publication date: 05/02/2021