To investigate the possible association between pelvic irradiation for rectal cancer and subsequent second primary cancers.
Patients and Methods:
A population-based analysis of 20,910 individuals with rectal cancer from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results registry, for whom follow-up times were at least 5 years, was performed. Kaplan-Meier estimates for the development of second cancers within irradiated and nonirradiated cohorts provided a comparison that accounted for censored data. Cox proportional hazards analyses were further conducted to compensate for patient and tumor-related factors.
A total of 656 (12%) and 2368 (16%) second primary cancers were enumerated from the irradiated and nonirradiated cohorts, respectively, with the proportion of second primary cancers within the irradiated cohort being significantly decreased (P < 0.001) on crude analysis. However, Kaplan-Meier and Cox analyses revealed no significant difference between the 2 cohorts when all second primary cancer sites were considered together (hazard ratio = 1.02; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.92–1.12). Proportional hazards analysis for specific second primary sites revealed a decreased risk after pelvic irradiation for cancer of the prostate (hazard ratio = 0.63; 95% CI, 0.48–0.84), and an increased risk for cancers of the uterine corpus & cervix (hazard ratio = 2.5; 95% CI, 1.6–4.0).
Second primary cancers after irradiation for rectal cancers appear relatively infrequent compared with the background incidence of spontaneous cancers, and should not factor into treatment decisions for this older population. We hypothesize that the incidence of second primary tumors within adjacent organs could represent a balance between the radiation-induction of tumors and the radiation-inhibition of spontaneously occurring tumors.