Local staging of rectal cancer: the current role of MRI
With the advent of powerful gradient coil systems and high-resolution surface coils, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has recently extended its role in the staging of rectal cancer. MRI is superior to endorectal ultrasound, the most widely used staging modality in patients with rectal tumors, in that it visualizes not only the intestinal wall but also the surrounding pelvic anatomy. The crucial advantage of MRI is not that it enables exact T-staging but precise evaluation of the topographic relationship of a tumor to the mesorectal fascia. This fascia is the most important anatomic landmark for the feasibility of total mesorectal excision, which has evolved into the standard operative procedure for the resection of cancer located in the middle or lower third of the rectum. MRI is currently the only imaging modality that is highly accurate in predicting whether or not it is likely that a tumor-free margin can be achieved and thus provides important information for planning of an effective therapeutic strategy, especially in patients with advanced rectal cancer.