Nonoperative management of rectal cancer is an emerging treatment approach that aims to enable carefully selected patients to avoid the morbidity of radical surgical resection, while benefiting from the same excellent rates of tumor control achieved with radical surgery-based combined-modality therapy. The success of nonoperative management in this setting is based on the accurate assessment of tumor eradication after chemoradiotherapy, without pathologic verification. Therefore, clinical evidence of complete response-based on physical examination, endoscopic procedures, and imaging-must be utilized as a marker to predict for pathologic complete response and thus help select the patients who are most appropriate for nonoperative management. Initial evidence from retrospective and prospective single-arm and cohort studies has demonstrated high rates of local control and disease-free survival with nonoperative management of rectal cancer, compared with historical results of combined-modality therapy. Several trials and registries are prospectively investigating nonoperative management vs standard treatment of rectal cancer. At this time, combined-modality therapy with total mesorectal excision remains the standard of care for patients with locally advanced rectal cancer; nonoperative management should not be routinely offered outside of clinical trials.
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