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Rectal cancer – Clinical Complete Response after
This information sheet can be used alongside information to patients considering chemoradiotherapy prior to surgery for rectal cancer, and for patients who have completed chemoradiotherapy and are found to have a Clinical Complete Response on follow-up scans and
What is Clinical Complete Response?
In patients with rectal cancer treated with chemo-radiotherapy and followed for at least three
months, there is a 10% - 15% chance that the rectal tumour completely disappears and is not
visible on the scan or on the ‘camera test’ (flexible sigmoidoscopy). This is called ‘Complete
Clinical Response’
What does this mean for me?
You now have the option to go on ‘Active Surveillance’ - also called ‘watch and wait’ – as an
alternative to proceeding with major surgery. You will be offered an intensive follow-up
program of regular scans and examinations of the rectum by flexible sigmoidoscopy.
Can I still have the surgery if I chose to?
If you are still interested in going ahead with surgery at this time, this can be discussed with
your consultant and clinical nurse specialist, who can discuss the nature and potential risks of
What follow-up will I have if I choose Active Surveillance?
In the first year, you will undergo three- monthly pelvic MRI scans and flexible
sigmoidoscopies. After this, you will have six-monthly MRI scans in year two and year three,
with flexible sigmoidoscopies if required. The MRI scans and flexible sigmoidoscopies are
used to check for tumour regrowth in and around the rectum.
In common with patients with rectal cancer who require surgery, you will have six-monthly CT
scans in the first two years, and annually thereafter until year 5. The CT scan is used to check
for tumour spread outside the pelvis and the bowel.
What are the risks of Active Surveillance?
Recent studies have shown that 60% of patients with Complete Clinical Response of the
rectal tumour after chemoradiotherapy will have no re-growth of the tumour in the rectum
within three years and can avoid major surgery. This means that 40 percent of patients who
are thought to have a Clinical Complete Response will develop tumour regrowth during their
follow up.
What happens if tumour regrowth occurs?
In the event of tumour regrowth, it may still be appropriate to undergo surgical intervention.
Should this be the case, your consultant will have a detailed discussion with you about the
operation. Recent studies show that when tumour regrowth occurs, you are very likely to be
suitable for curative surgery.
Is there a risk of developing spread of disease to other areas?
All patients with rectal cancer are at risk of spread of cancer to other areas of the body
(metastasis), of 10% to 15% over three years. Recent studies have shown that this rate is the
same for patients with a Clinical Complete Response, following chemoradiotherapy, on Active
Surveillance as those who have had surgery. The risk of metastasis can occur even if there is
no tumour regrowth in the rectum. Therefore all patients who have had treatment for rectal
cancer routinely have surveillance CT scans as part of follow to try and detect areas of
Other follow-up investigations
All patients who have had treatment for a colorectal cancer are offered a telescope
examination of the whole large bowel (known as a colonoscopy) at one year and five years
after treatment, and then five-yearly thereafter. This is to ensure that no new tumours are
forming elsewhere in the large bowel.
What signs/symptoms should I be aware of in future?
You will be followed up regularly by your consultant in clinic; however, you are advised to
watch out for the following signs and symptoms:
 rectal bleeding
 change of bowel habit (increased frequency and urgency)
 a feeling of incomplete emptying of the bowel
 lower abdominal pain
 tiredness
 unintended weight loss.
If you have any concerns or further questions, please contact:
 Scott Brown (Colorectal CNS): 07824 373785
The Christie Patient Information Service February 2016
CHR/SUR/1130/07.01.16 Version 1 Review February 2019
Details of the sources used are available, please contact