Objective: To assess the frequency and clinical features of treatment-induced bowel injury in rectal carcinoma patients receiving perioperative external beam radiotherapy (EBRT). The frequency of and factors associated with treatment-induced intestinal injury have previously not been well quantified for rectal cancer patients. Postoperative adjuvant chemoirradiation is recommended for Stage II and III rectal cancers, making such data of significant interest.
Methods and materials: The records of 386 consecutive patients undergoing radiotherapy with or without chemotherapy (CT) for rectal carcinoma between 1981-90 were reviewed. Eight-two patients were excluded for receiving nontherapeutic EBRT or modalities other than EBRT.
Results: Symptomatic acute treatment-related enteritis (within 30 days of EBRT +/- CT) was diagnosed in 13 patients, 3 of whom developed chronic bowel injury. Chronic treatment-related enteritis was identified in 18 patients and reoperation was required in 17 (5% of the 304 patients with complete follow-up). Chronic proctitis was documented in 38 patients, including 3 patients with small bowel injury. The probability of developing treatment-induced bowel injury at 5 years following treatment was 19%. Variables associated with an increased risk of bowel injury using multivariate analysis were transanal excision (p = 0.002), escalating radiation dose (p = 0.005), and increasing age (p = 0.01). Twenty of the affected patients required operative treatment, and 2 deaths resulted from treatment-induced enteritis.
Conclusion: Patients with rectal carcinoma treated with EBRT +/- CT have the risk of developing treatment-induced bowel injury. The pelvic radiation dose should be limited to < or = 5040 cGy unless small bowel can be displaced. Reperitonealization of the pelvis, or other surgical methods of excluding the small intestine should be used whenever possible.