Early Versus Late Recurrence in Rectal Cancer: Does Timing Matter?

Marina Affi Koprowski, Thomas L. Sutton, Nima Nabavizadeh, Charles Thomas, Emerson Chen, Adel Kardosh, Charles Lopez, Skye C. Mayo, Kim Lu, Daniel Herzig, V. Liana Tsikitis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: The definition of early recurrence (ER) in rectal cancer is unclear, and the association of ER with post-recurrence survival (PRS) is poorly described. We therefore sought to identify if time to recurrence (TTR) is associated with PRS. Methods: We reviewed all curative-intent resections of nonmetastatic rectal cancer from 2003 to 2018 in our institutional registry within an NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. Clinicopathologic data at diagnosis and first recurrence were collected and analyzed. ER was pre-specified at < 24 months and late recurrence (LR) at ≥ 24 months. PRS was evaluated by the Kaplan–Meier method and Cox proportional hazards modeling. Results: At a median follow-up of 53 months, 61 out of 548 (11.1%) patients undergoing resection experienced recurrence. Median TTR was 14 months (IQR 10–18) with 45 of 61 patients (74%) classified as ER. There were no significant baseline differences between patients with ER and LR. Most recurrences were isolated to the liver (26%) or lung (31%), and 16% were locoregional. ER was not associated with worse PRS compared to LR (P > 0.99). On multivariable analysis, detection of recurrence via workup for symptoms, CEA > 10 ng/mL at recurrence, and site of recurrence were independently associated with PRS. Conclusion: ER is not associated with PRS in patients with resected rectal cancer. Symptomatic recurrences and those accompanied by CEA elevations are associated with worse PRS, while metastatic disease confined to the liver or lung is associated with improved PRS. Attention should be directed away from TTR and instead toward determining therapy for patients with treatable oligometastatic disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-20
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Gastrointestinal Surgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • Rectal cancer
  • Recurrence
  • Survival

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Gastroenterology


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