MRI of rectal cancer—relevant anatomy and staging key points

Inês Santiago, Nuno Figueiredo, Oriol Parés, Celso Matos

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7 Citations (Scopus)
11 Downloads (Pure)


Rectal cancer has the eighth highest cancer incidence worldwide, and it is increasing in young individuals. However, in countries with a high human development index, mortality is decreasing, which may reflect better patient management, imaging being key. We rely on imaging to establish the great majority of clinical tumour features for therapeutic decision-making, namely tumour location, depth of invasion, lymph node involvement, circumferential resection margin status and extramural venous invasion. Despite major improvements in technique resulting in better image quality, and notwithstanding the dissemination of guidelines and examples of standardised reports, rectal cancer staging is still challenging on the day-to-day practice, and we believe there are three reasons. First, the normal posterior pelvic compartment anatomy and variants are not common knowledge to radiologists; second, not all rectal cancers fit in review paper models, namely the very early, the very low and the mucinous; and third, the key clinical tumour features may be tricky to analyse. In this review, we discuss the normal anatomy of the rectum and posterior compartment of the pelvis, systematise all rectal cancer staging key points and elaborate on the particularities of early, low and mucinous tumours. We also include our suggested reporting templates and a discussion of its comparison to the reporting templates provided by ESGAR and SAR.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100
JournalInsights into Imaging
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


  • Anatomic variants
  • Anatomy
  • Magnetic resonance
  • Rectal cancer
  • Rectum
  • Staging


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