Nutritional approach in malnourished surgical patients: a prospective randomized study

Arch Surg. 2002 Feb;137(2):174-80. doi: 10.1001/archsurg.137.2.174.


Hypothesis: Perioperative administration of a supplemented enteral formula may decrease postoperative morbidity.

Design: Randomized clinical trial.

Setting: Department of surgery at a university hospital.

Patients: One hundred ninety-six registered malnourished patients (weight loss > or = 10%) who were candidates for major elective surgery for malignancy of the gastrointestinal tract.

Intervention: After randomization (n = 150), one group received postoperative enteral feeding with a standard diet within 12 hours of surgery (control group; n = 50). Another group orally received 1 L/d for 7 consecutive days of a liquid diet enriched with arginine, omega-3 fatty acids, and RNA (preoperative group; n = 50). After surgery, patients were given the same standard enteral formula as the control group. A third group orally received 1 L/d for 7 consecutive days of the enriched liquid diet. After surgery, patients were given enteral feeding with the same enriched formula (perioperative group; n = 50).

Main outcome measures: Postoperative complications and length of hospital stay.

Results: The 3 groups were comparable for baseline demographics, biochemical markers, comorbidity factors, and surgical variables. The intent-to-treat analysis showed that the total number of patients with complications was 24 in the control group, 14 in the preoperative group, and 9 in the perioperative group (P =.02, control group vs perioperative group). Postoperative length of stay was significantly shorter in the preoperative (13.2 days) and perioperative (12.0 days) groups than in the control group (15.3 days) (P =.01 and P =.001, respectively, vs the control group).

Conclusion: Perioperative immunonutrition seems to be the best approach to support malnourished patients with cancer.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Arginine / administration & dosage
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Enteral Nutrition / methods*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Food, Formulated
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Italy
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Nutrition Disorders / diet therapy*
  • Postoperative Care
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control
  • Prospective Studies
  • RNA / administration & dosage
  • Risk Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • RNA
  • Arginine