Adjuvant chemotherapy in patients with clinically node-negative but pathologically node-positive rectal cancer in the Netherlands: A retrospective analysis

Johannes J. M. Kwakman, Marinde J. G. Bond, Ramzi M. Demichelis, Miriam Koopman, Roel Hompes, Marloes A. G. Elferink, Cornelis J. A. Punt

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Introduction: Accurate clinical staging of rectal cancer is hampered by suboptimal sensitivity of MRI in the detection of regional lymph node metastases. Consequently, some patients may be understaged and have been withheld neoadjuvant (chemo)radiotherapy in retrospect. Although Dutch guidelines do not advocate adjuvant chemotherapy (ACT) in rectal cancer, some of these clinically understaged patients receive ACT according to local policy. We aim to assess the benefit of ACT in these patients. Methods: Population-based data from patients with clinically node-negative (cN0) but pathologically node-positive (pN+) rectal cancer that underwent total mesorectal excision (TME) without neoadjuvant treatment between 2008 and 2018 were obtained from the Netherlands Cancer Registry. Missing data were handled by multiple imputation. Stabilised inverse probability treatment weighting (sIPTW) was used to balance clinical characteristics. Overall survival (OS) was compared in ACT and non-ACT patients. Results: Of 34,724 patients, 13,861 had cN0 disease of whom 3016 were pN+ (21.8%). 1466 (48.6%) of these patients underwent upfront TME and were included. Median follow-up was 84 months (95% confidence interval [CI] 76–97) versus 79 months (95% CI 77–81) in patients that did (n = 290, 19.8%) and did not (n = 1176, 80.2%) receive ACT, respectively. After sIPTW adjustment, ACT was associated with improved OS (hazard ratio 0.70; 95% CI 0.49–0.99; p = 0.04). The estimated 5-year OS rate was 74.2% versus 65.3%, respectively. Conclusion: In this population-based cohort of patients with cN0 but pN+ rectal cancer who underwent upfront TME, ACT was associated with a significant OS benefit. These data support to discuss ACT in this population.
Original languageEnglish
Article number113466
JournalEuropean Journal of Cancer
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2024


  • Adjuvant chemotherapy
  • Rectal cancer
  • Retrospective study
  • Survival analysis

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