Bowel injury from radiation given for carcinoma of the cervix is a complex management problem. Prospectively collected computerized data from April 1989 to June 1997 (8 years) were analysed. There were 84 women with a mean age of 60.6 (standard error 1.2) years. Bleeding from radiation proctitis presented much earlier [mean 19.9 (1.9) months after radiotherapy] than either strictures [mean 81.9 (18.4) months, P = 0.008] or rectovaginal fistula [mean 95.5 (39.0) months]. Topical formalin application successfully controlled bleeding in 49 of 55 patients (89.1%) with radiation proctocolitis. The remaining 6 patients, as well as all 14 patients with symptomatic strictures and all 14 patients with rectovaginal fistula underwent surgery. Rectal strictures were successfully dilated in 2. Bowel resection with reanastomosis (with stoma defunction) was performed in 12 and stoma was created in the remaining 20 because of poor general medical condition or advanced recurrent malignancy. The postoperative mortality was 3% (1 bronchopneumonia) and morbidity was 9% (1 anastomotic leak, 1 urinary infection and 1 wound infection). At a mean follow up of 35 (2.4) months, 7 (21.2%) other postoperative patients have since died (all of these from recurrent cancer). We conclude that topical formalin is effective for controlling bleeding radiation proctitis. When not successful or where other radiation complications occur, judicious surgery dependent upon the patient’s general condition can be safely and effectively performed. The longer term results are worthwhile, especially where there is no recurrent cancer.
Radiation bowel injury is a significant clinical problem because of the technical difficulties of surgery. Among the more common causes is radiation of carcinoma of the cervix, because radiotherapy is the principle mode of treatment for this fourth most common malignancy in women in Singapore (after carcinoma of the breast, colorectal carcinoma and carcinoma of the lung).
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