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In an attempt to elucidate if and when there is a place for abdominoperineal excision in rectal cancer, we have evaluated survival, risk of local recurrence and functional results of alternative procedures. There seems to be no difference in survival rate after intended curative surgery for rectal cancer between rectal excision and sphincter-saving resection. This is also true with respect to risk of local recurrence, except in patients with poorly differentiated Dukes' C tumours, where the risk of significant distal intramural spread is increased. Functional results are satisfactory after low anterior resection with colorectal anastomosis, whereas colo-anal anastomosis is followed by less satisfactory results especially in elderly patients. In these patients rectal excision with a permanent colostomy is probably preferable.