Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the second cause of cancer-related deaths. Rectal cancer presents roughly one-third of all colorectal cancer cases and differs from it on both anatomical and molecular levels. While standard treatment of colon cancer patients is radical surgery, rectal cancer is usually treated with pre-operative chemoradiotherapy followed by total mesorectal excision, which requires precise estimation of TNM staging. Unfortunately, stage evaluation is based solely on imaging modalities, and they often do not correlate with postoperative pathological findings. Moreover, approximately half of rectal cancer patients do not respond to such pre-operative therapy, so they are exposed to its toxic effects without any clinical benefit. Thus, biomarkers that could precisely predict pre-operative TNM staging, and especially response to therapy, would significantly advance rectal cancer treatment—but till now, no such biomarker has been identified. In cancer research, microRNAs are emerging biomarkers due to their connection with carcinogenesis and exceptional stability. Circulating miRNAs are promising non-invasive biomarkers that could allow monitoring of a patient throughout the whole therapeutic process. This mini-review aims to summarize the current knowledge on miRNAs and circulating miRNAs involved in the prediction of response to treatment and pre-operative staging in rectal cancer patients.
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