Résumé : To improve surgical results of potentially operable rectal cancer, the European Organization on Research and Treatment of Cancer conducted a two‐arm randomized clinical trial to compare the efficiency of preoperative administration of radiotherapy, with or without 5‐fluorouracil before radical surgery. Two hundred forty‐seven eligible patients were admitted from November 1972 through April 1976. The overall survival observed in the group treated with preoperative radiotherapy appears to be better than in the group of patients where preoperative combined modality was administered. Five‐year survival is 59% versus 46% with a marginal statistical significance of P = 0.06. Although the combined modality arm had a higher incidence of side effects and postoperative deaths, it had a greater effect than the radiotherapyalone arm in controlling the disease process, mainly distant metastases to the liver with a result bordering on statistical significance (P = 0.07). The incidence of nonmalignant and intercurrent deaths were higher in the combined modality group, whereas deaths due to malignancy were higher in the radiotherapyalone group. Observing more stringent selection in disease and patients' criteria, side effects and intercurrent deaths can be effectively reduced with further improvement in adjuvant therapy results. Copyright © 1984 American Cancer Society