Response to neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy (CRT) of rectal cancer is variable. Accurate imaging for prediction and early assessment of response would enable appropriate stratification of management to reduce treatment morbidity and improve therapeutic outcomes. Use of either diffusion weighted imaging (DWI) or dynamic contrast enhanced (DCE) imaging alone currently lacks sufficient sensitivity and specificity for clinical use to guide individualized treatment in rectal cancer. Multi-parametric MRI and analysis combining DWI and DCE may have potential to improve the accuracy of therapeutic response prediction and assessment.
This protocol describes a prospective non-interventional single-arm clinical study. Patients with locally advanced rectal cancer undergoing preoperative CRT will prospectively undergo multi-parametric MRI pre-CRT, week 3 CRT, and post-CRT. The protocol consists of DWI using a read-out segmented sequence (RESOLVE), and DCE with pre-contrast T1-weighted (VIBE) scans for T1 calculation, followed by 60 phases at high temporal resolution (TWIST) after gadoversetamide injection. A 3-dimensional voxel-by-voxel technique will be used to produce colour-coded ADC and Ktrans histograms, and data evaluated in combination using scatter plots. MRI parameters will be correlated with surgical histopathology. Histopathology analysis will be standardized, with chemoradiotherapy response defined according to AJCC 7th Edition Tumour Regression Grade (TRG) criteria. Good response will be defined as TRG 0–1, and poor response will be defined as TRG 2–3.
The combination of DWI and DCE can provide information on physiological tumour factors such as cellularity and perfusion that may affect radiotherapy response. If validated, multi-parametric MRI combining DWI and DCE can be used to stratify management in rectal cancer patients. Accurate imaging prediction of patients with a complete response to CRT would enable a ‘watch and wait’ approach, avoiding surgical morbidity in these patients. Consistent and reliable quantitation from standardised protocols is essential in order to establish optimal thresholds of ADC and Ktrans and permit the role of multi-parametric MRI for early treatment prediction to be properly evaluated.