OBJECTIVE: The current literature has described the usefulness of elastography and diffusion-weighted MRI in patients with cancer, but to the best of our knowledge so far none of them has compared the two new methods. The tumour cell density is related to the MRI-measured apparent diffusion-weighted coefficient (ADC). The purpose of the present study was to compare quantitative elastography based on ultrasound shear wave measurements with MRI ADC. METHODS: We prospectively examined 52 patients with histopathologically proven rectal cancer. The mean age was 67 years (range 42-90 years). Males: 39, females: 13. Tumour elasticity was measured transgluteally using the acoustic radiation force impulse (ARFI) to generate information on the mechanical properties of the tissue. The objective quantitative elastography shear wave velocity was blindly compared with the ADC measurements using a 1.5-T MRI system. RESULTS: The mean tumour elasticity was 3.05 m s-1 [standard deviation (SD): 0.79], and the mean ADC was 0.69 × 10-3 mm2 s-1 (SD: 0.27). Elasticity was inversely strongly correlated with ADC, r = -0.65 (Salkin scale). ARFI = 4.392 - 1.949 × ADC, R2 = 0.43, p < 0.0001. Intercept = 4.392 (95% CI: 3.92 to 4.86), slope = -1.949 (95% CI: -1.31 to -2.59), p < 0.0001. CONCLUSION: Elasticity correlates with the estimated diffusion restriction by MRI ADC measurements in rectal tumours. The relationship between ARFI and ADC measurement was linear in our study population. Advances in knowledge: This work describes a correlation between tissue elasticity and diffusion in rectal cancer.