During the past decades the management of patients with rectal cancer has substantially changed, with a significant reduction in local recurrence rates following the introduction of better imaging, better surgery, and more efficient neoadjuvant therapy. This review discusses the clinically relevant information radiologists should know on staging of rectal cancer patients. The crucial role of the radiologist in patient management is explained. Furthermore, the evidence for the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in staging and restaging of rectal cancer patients as well as the main features that need to be evaluated when interpreting rectal cancer MRI are given. New diagnostic challenges as a result of new treatment options are also discussed. J. Magn. Reson. Imaging 2011;33:1012-1019. (c) 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.