Based on a review of the literature, this paper provides an update on surgical treatment of middle and low rectal cancer and discusses issues of debate surrounding that treatment. The main goal of the surgical treatment of rectal cancer is radical resection of the tumor and surrounding lymphatic tissue. Local excision of early rectal cancer can be another treatment option, in which the patient can avoid possible complications related to radical surgery. Neoadjuvant chemoradiation therapy (CRT) has been recommended for patients with cT3-4N0 or any T N+ rectal cancer because CRT shows better local control and less toxicity than adjuvant CRT. However, recent clinical trials showed promising results for local excision after neoadjuvant CRT in selected patients with low rectal cancer. In addition, the "wait and see" concept is another modality that has been reported for the management of tumors that show complete clinical remission after neoadjuvant CRT. Although radical surgery for middle and low rectal cancer is the cornerstone therapy, an ultralow anterior resection with or without intersphincteric resection (ISR) has become an alternative standard surgical method for selected patients. Many studies have reported on the oncological safety of the ISR, but few of them have addressed the issue the functional outcome. Furthermore, an abdominoperineal resection (APR) has problems with high rates of tumor perforations and positive circumferential resection margins, and those factors have contributed to its having a high rate of local recurrence and a poor survival rate for rectal cancer compared with sphincter-saving procedures. Recently, great efforts have been made to reduce these problems, and the total levator excision or the extended APR concept has emerged. Surgical management for low rectal cancer should aim to radically excise the tumor and to preserve as much of the sphincter function as possible by using multidisciplinary approaches. However, further prospective clinical trials are needed for tailored treatment of rectal cancer patients.
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