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Real-time in vivo optical biopsy using confocal laser endomicroscopy to evaluate distal margin in situ and determine surgical procedure in low rectal cancer

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In low rectal cancer, a negative distal margin (DM) is necessary for R0 radical resection, and therefore, the choice of surgical procedure is dependent on whether the planned transection rectum has residual cancer or not. Currently, surgeons choose surgical procedures according to intraoperative in vitro DM frozen sections. This study aimed to investigate the feasibility of real-time in vivo optical biopsy using confocal laser endomicroscopy (CLE) to evaluate DM in situ and determine the surgical procedure in low rectal cancer.


Optical biopsy using CLE was performed when the rectum was dissected at the levator ani plane and rectum transection was ready. For negative DM, the surgical procedure of low anterior resection (LAR) was chosen. For positive DM, the surgical procedure of abdominoperineal resection (APR) was chosen. The specimen at the site of the planned transection rectum underwent intraoperative frozen section and routine pathological procedures.


Eighteen patients underwent real-time in vivo optical biopsy using CLE in surgery. Eleven patients’ CLE images of DM showed a regular, round crypt, and round luminal opening covered by a simple layer of columnar epithelial cells and goblet cells. LAR was then performed. Pathology revealed that the 11 DMs were negative, and the median length of the DMs was 2.0 cm. The remaining seven patients’ CLE images of the planned transection rectum showed the loss of crypt architecture and irregular epithelial layer with loss of goblet cells. APR was then performed. Pathology confirmed cancer invasion, and the median distance from tumor to dentate line was 1.0 cm. The sensitivity, specificity, and accuracy of CLE optical biopsy of DM were 85.71%, 100%, and 94.44%, respectively.


It is feasible to perform real-time in vivo optical biopsy using CLE to evaluate DM in situ and determine the surgical procedure in low rectal cancer.

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This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (81773117), the Special Fund for Guangdong Province Public Research and Capacity Building (2014B020215002), the Natural Science Foundation of Guangdong Province (2015A030308006), the Guangzhou Industry University Research Cooperative Innovation Major Project (201704020062), the Science Popularization Program of Guangzhou Science and Technology Association, the Clinical Research Project of Southern Medical University (LC2016PY010), the High Level Research Matching Foundation of Nanfang Hospital (2014067), the Scientific Research Foundation for High Level Talents in Nanfang Hospital of Southern Medical University (201404280056), the National Training Program for Undergraduate Innovation and Entrepreneurship (201612121080, 201612121008), the Special Funds for the Cultivation of Guangdong College Students’ Scientific and Technological Innovation (pdjh2017a0093, pdjh2017b0099), and the Scientific Enlightenment Plan of Southern Medical University (2017).

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Correspondence to Chris Xu or Jun Yan.

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Drs. Zhangyuanzhu Liu, Xiaobei Luo, Wei Jiang, Dexin Chen, Weisheng Chen, Kai Li, Xiumin Liu, Ziming Cui, Zhiming Li, Zelong Han, Side Liu, Guoxin Li Chris Xu, and Jun Yan have no conflicts of interest or financial ties to disclose.

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Liu, Z., Luo, X., Jiang, W. et al. Real-time in vivo optical biopsy using confocal laser endomicroscopy to evaluate distal margin in situ and determine surgical procedure in low rectal cancer. Surg Endosc 33, 2332–2338 (2019).

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