Long-term imaging characteristics of clinical complete responders during watch-and-wait for rectal cancer-an evaluation of over 1500 MRIs

Doenja M. J. Lambregts*, Monique Maas, Thierry N. Boellaard, Andrea Delli Pizzi, Marit E. van der Sande, Britt J. P. Hupkens, Max J. Lahaye, Frans C. H. Bakers, Geerard L. Beets, Regina G. H. Beets-Tan

*Corresponding author for this work

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Objectives Rectal cancer patients with a clinical complete response after chemoradiotherapy (CRT) may be followed with a 'watch-and-wait' (W&W) approach as an alternative to surgery. MRI plays an important role in the follow-up of these patients, but basic knowledge on what to expect from the morphology of the irradiated tumour bed during follow-up is lacking, which can hamper image interpretation. The objective was to establish the spectrum of non-suspicious findings during long-term (> 2 years) follow-up in patients with a sustained clinical complete response undergoing W&W. Methods A total of 1509 T2W MRIs of 164 sustained complete responders undergoing W&W were retrospectively evaluated. Morphology of the tumour bed was evaluated (2 independent readers) on the restaging MRI and on the various follow-up MRIs and classified as (a) no fibrosis, (b) minimal fibrosis, (c) full thickness fibrosis, or (d) irregular fibrosis. Any changes occurring during follow-up were documented. Results A total of 104 patients (63%) showed minimal fibrosis, 38 (23%) full thickness fibrosis, 8 (5%) irregular fibrosis, and 14 (9%) no fibrosis. In 93% of patients, the morphology remained completely stable during follow-up; in 7%, a minor increase/decrease in fibrosis was observed. Interobserver agreement was excellent (kappa 0.90). Conclusions Typically, the morphology as established at restaging remains completely unchanged. The majority of patients show fibrosis with the predominant pattern being a minimal fibrosis confined to the rectal wall. Complete absence of fibrosis occurs in only 1/10 cases. Once validated in independent cohorts, these findings may serve as a reference for radiologists involved in the clinical follow-up of W&W patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)272-280
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Radiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • Rectal neoplasms
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Fibrosis

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