Does prehabilitation modify muscle mass in patients with rectal cancer undergoing neoadjuvant therapy? A subanalysis from the REx randomised controlled trial

S. J. Moug, S. J.E. Barry, S. Maguire, N. Johns, D. Dolan, R. J. C. Steele, C. Buchan, G. Mackay, A. S. Anderson, N. Mutrie

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Background Patients with rectal cancer who present with sarcopenia (low muscle mass) are at significantly greater risk of postoperative complications and reduction in disease-free survival. We performed a subanalysis of a randomised controlled study [the REx trial;; 62859294] to assess the potential of prehabilitation to modify muscle mass in patients having neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy (NACRT).
Methods Patients scheduled for NACRT, then potentially curative surgery (August 2014–March 2016) had baseline physi- cal assessment and psoas muscle mass measurement (total psoas index using computed tomography-based measurements). Participants were randomised to either the intervention (13–17-week telephone-guided graduated walking programme) or control group (standard care). Follow-up testing was performed 1–2 weeks before surgery.
Results The 44 patients had a mean age of 66.8 years (SD 9.6) and were male (64%); white (98%); American Society of Anesthesiologists class 2 (66%); co-morbid (58%); overweight (72%) (body mass index ≥ 25 kg/m2). At baseline, 14% were sarcopenic. At follow-up, 13 (65%) of patients in the prehabilitation group had increased muscle mass versus 7 (35%) that experienced a decrease. Conversely, 16 (67%) controls experienced a decrease in muscle mass and 8 (33%) showed an increase. An adjusted linear regression model estimated a mean treatment difference in Total Psoas Index of 40.2mm2/m2 (95% CI − 3.4 to 83.7) between groups in change from baseline (p = 0.07).
Conclusions Prehabilitation improved muscle mass in patients with rectal cancer who had NACRT. These results need to be explored in a larger trial to determine if the poorer short- and long-term patient outcomes associated with low muscle mass can be minimised by prehabilitation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)959-964
Number of pages6
JournalTechniques in Coloproctology
Issue number9
Early online date20 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sep 2020


  • prehabilitation
  • muscle wasting
  • rectal cancer
  • sarcopenia
  • neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy
  • neoadjuvant therapy
  • rectal neoplasms
  • preoperative care
  • walking

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