What are indications for total mesorectal excision (TME) in the treatment of rectal cancer?

Updated: Apr 06, 2021
  • Author: Burt Cagir, MD, FACS; Chief Editor: N Joseph Espat, MD, MS, FACS  more...
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The operation entails full mobilization of the rectum, sigmoid colon, and, usually, the splenic flexure. Mobilization of the rectum requires a technique called total mesorectal excision (TME). TME involves sharp dissection in the avascular plane that is created by the envelope that separates the entire mesorectum from the surrounding structures. This includes the anterior peritoneal reflection and Denonvilliers fascia anteriorly and preserves the inferior hypogastric plexus posteriorly and laterally. TME is performed under direct visualization. Mesorectal spread can occur by direct tumor spread, tumor extension into lymph nodes, or perineural invasion of tumor. [37, 50, 54]

TME yields a lower local recurrence rate (4%) than transanal excision (20%), but it is associated with a higher rate of anastomotic leak (11%). For this reason, TME may not be necessary for lesions in the upper third of the rectum. The distal resection margin varies depending on the site of the lesion. A 2-cm margin distal to the lesion must be achieved. For the tumors of the distal rectum, less than 5 cm from the anal verge, the minimally accepted distal margin is 1 cm in the fresh specimen. Distal intra-mural spread beyond 1 cm occurs rarely. Distal spread beyond 1 cm is associated with aggressive tumor behavior or advanced tumor stage. [37]

The procedure is performed with the patient in the modified lithotomy position with the buttocks slightly over the edge of the operating table to allow easy access to the rectum. [50]   A circular stapling device is used to create the anastomosis. A double-stapled technique is performed. This entails transection of the rectum distal to the tumor from within the abdomen using a linear stapling device. The proximal resection margin is divided with a purse-string device.

After sizing the lumen, the detached anvil of the circular stapler is inserted into the proximal margin and secured with the purse-string suture. The circular stapler is inserted carefully into the rectum, and the central shaft is projected through or near the linear staple line. Then, the anvil is engaged with the central shaft, and, after completely closing the circular stapler, the device is fired. Two rings of staples create the anastomosis, and a circular rim or donut of tissue from the proximal and distal margins is removed with the stapling device.

According to a study by Maurer et al, the introduction of TME has resulted in an impressive reduction of local recurrence rates. TME appears to have improved survival in patients without systemic disease. [55]

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