A trial looking at the timing of radiotherapy for rectal cancer (CR07)

Cancer type:

Bowel (colorectal) cancer
Rectal cancer




Phase 3

This trial compared radiotherapy before surgery with radiotherapy after surgery for cancer of the back passage (rectum).

Surgery is the usual treatment for rectal cancer. This remains the best form of treatment. But some patients are known to do better if they have radiotherapy before surgery.

The aim of this trial was to find out if it was better to have radiotherapy before or after surgery. Patients having radiotherapy after surgery could be given a small dose of a chemotherapy drug called 5FU, as this helps the radiotherapy to work better (chemoradiotherapy).

Summary of results

The research team found that it was better to give radiotherapy before surgery to lower the chance of rectal cancer coming back in the area it first started (local recurrence Open a glossary item).

It was a randomised trial and recruited 1,350 people

  • Half went into the ‘radiotherapy before surgery’ group
  • Half went into the ‘chemoradiotherapy after surgery’ group

Not everyone in the second group had chemoradiotherapy. This depended on different factors, including whether or not they had clear margins Open a glossary item after surgery.

When the research team analysed their results, they had followed the progress of those taking part for an average of 4 years. They found that

  • 330 people had died (157 in the radiotherapy before surgery group and 173 in the chemoradiotherapy after surgery group)
  • The cancer had come back locally in more people in the chemoradiotherapy after surgery group (72 people) than in the other group (27 people)
  • 3 years after treatment, more people were alive and cancer free (disease free survival) in the group having radiotherapy before surgery (77.5%) compared to the group having it after surgery (71.5%)
  • The number of people alive, with or without any signs of cancer, (overall survival) was the same in both groups

The research team did look at the side effects of radiotherapy before and after surgery, and how it affects patients’ quality of life, but they will publish these results separately.

We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Dr David Sebag-Montefiore

Supported by

Medical Research Council (MRC)
NIHR Clinical Research Network: Cancer

Questions about cancer? Contact our information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

Oracle 14

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Cara took part in a clinical trial

A picture of Cara

"I am glad that taking part in a trial might help others on their own cancer journey.”

Last reviewed:

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