Background: Colorectal stents are being used for palliation and as a 'bridge to surgery' in obstructing colorectal cancers.
Methods: A systematic review of the published data on stenting for the treatment of colorectal obstruction was carried out by searching Medline and other online databases for the period from January 1990 to December 2000. A total of 58 publications (case series, single case reports and reviews) was found, of which 29 case series were included in the analysis. Technical and clinical success, complications and reobstruction, both in palliation and as a 'bridge to surgery', were assessed. Both descriptive statistics and pooled analyses were carried out.
Results: Pooled results showed that stent insertion was attempted in 598 instances. Technical success was achieved in 551 (92 per cent) and clinical success in 525 (88 per cent). Palliation was achieved in 302 (90 per cent) of 336 cases, while 223 (85 per cent) of 262 insertions succeeded as a 'bridge to surgery' (95 per cent had a one-stage surgical procedure). There were three deaths (1 per cent). Perforation occurred 22 times (4 per cent). Stent migration was reported in 54 (10 per cent) of 551 technically successful cases. The rate of stent reobstruction was 52 (10 per cent) of 525, mainly in the palliative group.
Conclusion: Evidence suggests that colorectal stents offer good palliation, and are safe and effective as a 'bridge to surgery'. Stent usage can avoid the need for a stoma, and is associated with low rates of mortality and morbidity. Dilatation of malignant strictures at the time of stent placement appears to be dangerous and should be avoided.