A trial looking at chemotherapy for people with rectal cancer (Copernicus)

Cancer type:

Bowel (colorectal) cancer
Rectal cancer




Phase 2

This trial looked at whether it was useful for people with cancer of the back passage (rectal cancer) to have chemotherapy before surgery. 

Cancer Research UK supported this trial.

More about this trial

Radiotherapy, followed by surgery and chemotherapy is the usual treatment for rectal cancer. This is standard treatment Open a glossary item.

Research has shown that for some cancers giving chemotherapy before and after surgery can help to delay the cancer coming back.

In this trial doctors gave people the same amount of radiotherapy and chemotherapy as standard treatment. But some of the chemotherapy was given before surgery.

The researchers wanted to find out

  • if it was possible to give chemotherapy before surgery
  • if having chemotherapy before and after surgery helped to delay rectal cancer coming back
  • about the side effects

Summary of results

The trial team found it was possible to give chemotherapy before surgery to remove rectal cancer.

This was a phase 2 trial. Everyone had chemotherapy before surgery to remove their rectal cancer.

60 people joined the trial. 3 people didn’t have surgery.

57 people had chemotherapy, radiotherapy then surgery. The average gap between finishing their radiotherapy and having surgery was 7 days.

The cancer was completely removed in all 57 people.

After surgery 45 people had more chemotherapy and 12 didn’t.

The researchers have followed up the people who had surgery for at least 1 year after surgery to see how they are.

The worst side effect of the chemotherapy and radiotherapy before surgery was a significant drop in white blood cells causing an increased risk of infection.

The trial team concluded that it is possible to give chemotherapy before surgery for rectal cancer. A larger phase 3 trial is being considered to study this further.

We have based this summary on information from the research team. As far as we are aware, the information they sent us has not been reviewed independently (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) or published in a medical journal yet. The figures we quote above were provided by the research 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 Simon Gollins

Supported by

Bobby Moore Fund (BMF)
Cancer Research UK
Cardiff University
Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC)
NIHR Clinical Research Network: Cancer
Wales Cancer Trials Unit (WCTU)

Other information

This is Cancer Research UK trial number CRUK/10/020.

Questions about cancer? Contact our information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:


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.”

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