Background: Preoperative staging is essential for planning of optimal therapy for patients with rectal cancer. Recently, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used frequently because of its benefits of clear pelvic image are better than other diagnostic methods. The purpose of this study was to determine accuracy rates and clinical usefulness of MRI in preoperative staging of rectal cancer. Methods: Between February, 1997, and December, 1999, 217 patients with histologically proven rectal cancer were staged preoperatively and had surgical resections performed. MRI criteria for depth of invasion was determined by the degree of disruption of the rectal wall. Metastatic perirectal lymph nodes were considered to be present if they showed heterogenous texture, irregular margin, and enlargement (> 10 mm). Results: The accuracy of the MRI for determining depth of invasion was 176/217 (81%) and regional lymph node invasion was 110/217 (63%). In the T stage, accuracy rate of T1 was 3/4 (75%), T2 was 20/37 (54%), T3 was 141/162 (87%), and T4 was 12/14 (86%), respectively. The specificity of lymph node invasion was 45/110 (41%) and the sensitivity was 91/107 (85%). The accuracy rate of regional lymph node involvement was 136/217 (63%). T1 and T2 were overstaged in 1/4 (25%) and 17/37 (46%), respectively, and T3 was understaged in 15/162 (9.2%). The accuracy rate to detect metastatic lateral pelvic lymph node was 4/14 (29%) after lateral pelvic lymph node dissection was done in 14 patients under MRI. The accuracy rate in assessing levator ani muscle tumor involvement was 8/11 (72%). Conclusions: MRI showed a good, comparable accuracy rate for determining depth of tumor invasion, compared with transrectal ultrasonography, which still has a low accuracy rate for detecting metastatic lymph node. MRI with endorectal coil may increase the accuracy rate of T1 and T2 lesions. In addition, clear sagittal and coronal sectional pelvic images can give a lot of information about adjacent organ invasion or any invasion of levator ani muscle. MRI can be useful for choosing an appropriate extent of lymph node dissection and type of surgery.
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