Purpose: Chronic radiation proctitis, a well described complication of pelvic radiation therapy, can result in severe bleeding that is refractory to conventional treatment. Argon plasma coagulation is an effective treatment for hemorrhagic lesions of the gastrointestinal tract. The aim of this study was to assess the efficacy and safety of argon plasma coagulation in the management of severe radiation proctitis resistant to medical treatment.
Methods: Eleven patients (10 males) aged between 54 and 86 years (mean +/- standard error of the mean, 73 +/- 3 years), with chronic radiation proctitis after radiotherapy for prostate (n = 9), uterine (n = 1) or rectal (n = 1) cancer were enrolled in this prospective study. Traditional therapies had failed including mainly topical steroids, 5-aminosalicylic acid and sometimes sucralfate. All patients had active bleeding from diffuse telangiectasias responsible for chronic anemia and seven of them required blood transfusions. The mean duration of the sessions was 20 minutes and one to five sessions (mean, 3.2 +/- 0.4), usually without anesthesia, were required to stop bleeding. Mean follow-up time was 19 +/- 2 (range, 7-30) months.
Results: Rectal bleeding disappeared in nine patients and was greatly reduced in two. All the patients were free of transfusions during the mean follow-up of 19 months. The mean hemoglobin level was 7.7 +/- 2.8 g/dl at the first session and increased significantly (P = 0.003) to 11.5 +/- 2.6 g/dl after treatment. In two patients, a rectal stenosis appeared 7 and 11 months after the first session.
Conclusion: Argon plasma coagulation is a simple, inexpensive and effective treatment for severe refractory radiation proctitis with telangiectasias. Follow-up supervision is in progress to evaluate long term benefits and the risk of rectal stenosis.