Re-staging and follow-up of rectal cancer patients with MR imaging when “Watch-and-Wait” is an option: a practical guide

Inês Santiago, Bernardete Rodrigues, Maria Barata, Nuno Figueiredo, Laura Fernandez, Antonio Galzerano, Oriol Parés, Celso Matos

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In the past nearly 20 years, organ-sparing when no apparent viable tumour is present after neoadjuvant therapy has taken an increasingly relevant role in the therapeutic management of locally-advanced rectal cancer patients. The decision to include a patient or not in a “Watch-and-Wait” program relies mainly on endoscopic assessment by skilled surgeons, and MR imaging by experienced radiologists. Strict surveillance using the same modalities is required, given the chance of a local regrowth is of approximately 25–30%, almost always surgically salvageable if caught early. Local regrowths occur at the endoluminal aspect of the primary tumour bed in almost 90% of patients, but the rest are deep within it or outside the rectal wall, in which case detection relies solely on MR Imaging. In this educational review, we provide a practical guide for radiologists who are, or intend to be, involved in the re-staging and follow-up of rectal cancer patients in institutions with an established “Watch-and-Wait” program. First, we discuss patient preparation and MR imaging acquisition technique. Second, we focus on the re-staging MR imaging examination and review the imaging findings that allow us to assess response. Third, we focus on follow-up assessments of patients who defer surgery and confer about the early signs that may indicate a sustained/non-sustained complete response, a rectal/extra-rectal regrowth, and the particular prognosis of the “near-complete” responders. Finally, we discuss our proposed report template.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114
JournalInsights into Imaging
Issue number1
Early online date9 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Neoadjuvant therapy
  • Re-staging
  • Rectal cancer
  • “Watch-and-Wait”


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