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Open Access Research article

Rectal cancer treatment and outcome in the elderly: an audit based on the Swedish rectal cancer registry 1995–2004

Bärbel Jung12*, Lars Påhlman3, Robert Johansson4 and Erik Nilsson1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Surgery and Perioperative Sciences, University of Umeå, Sweden

2 Department of Surgery, Visby Hospital, Visby, Sweden

3 Department of Surgery, Academic Hospital, Uppsala, Sweden

4 Oncology Centre, Umeå University Hospital, Umeå, Sweden

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BMC Cancer 2009, 9:68  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-9-68

Published: 26 February 2009



Limited information is available regarding the effect of age on choice of surgical and oncological treatment for rectal cancer. The objective of this study was to assess the influence of age on treatment and outcome of rectal cancer.


We utilized data in the Swedish Rectal Cancer Registry (SRCR) from patients treated for rectal cancer in Sweden in 1995–2004.


A total of 15,104 patients with rectal cancer were identified, 42.4% of whom were 75 years or older. Patients ≥75 years were less likely to have distant metastases than younger patients (14.8% vs. 17.8%, P < 0.001), and underwent abdominal tumor resection less frequently (68.5% vs. 84.4%, P < 0.001). Of 11,725 patients with abdominal tumor resection (anterior resection [AR], abdominoperineal excision [APE], and Hartmann's procedure [HA]), 37.4% were ≥75 years. Curative surgery was registered for 85.0% of patients ≥ 75 years and for 83.9% of patients < 75 years, P = 0.11. Choice of abdominal operation differed significantly between the two age groups for both curative and non-curative surgery, The frequency of APE was similar in both age groups (29.5% vs. 28.6%), but patients ≥75 years were more likely to have HA (16.9% vs. 4.9%) and less likely to have preoperative radiotherapy (34.3vs. 67.2%, P < 0.001). The relative survival rate at five years for all patients treated with curative intent was 73% (70–75%) for patients ≥75 years and 78% (77–79%) for patients < 75 years of age. Local recurrence rate was 9% (8–11%) for older and 8% (7–9%) for younger patients.


Treatment of rectal cancer is influenced by patient's age. Future studies should include younger and older patients alike to reveal whether or not age-related differences are purposive. Local recurrence following surgery for low tumors and quality of life aspects deserve particular attention.