Introduction: The effect of pelvic radiotherapy on anorectal function is not clearly documented and is investigated in this prospective study.
Methods: Thirty-one males (median age, 70 years) with carcinoma of the prostate (n = 28) and bladder (n = 3) completed proctitis/incontinence symptom score questionnaires and anorectal physiology studies before and six weeks after pelvic radiotherapy. At six months after completion of radiotherapy, 25 of these patients were studied again. The results were expressed as medians and ranges and compared by the Mann-Whitney U test (2-tailed).
Results: Six weeks and six months after treatment, respectively, the proctitis symptom scores (0 (0-4) vs. 2 (0-7) (P < 0.001) vs. 2 (0-5) (P < 0.001)) and the incontinence symptom scores (0 (0-5) vs. 4 (0-11) (P < 0.001) vs. 3 (0-14) (P < 0.001)) increased. Urgency, frequency of defecation, anorectal pain, incontinence to liquid stool and to flatus, and alteration in lifestyle were significant symptoms after treatment. The following measurements decreased: anal canal resting pressure (83 (35-137) vs. 79 (26-152) (P = NS) vs. 71 (29-97) (P < 0.01) cm H2O), the squeeze increment (152 (51-135) vs. 162 (63-321) (P = NS) vs. 108 (45-296) (P < 0.042) cm H2O), and the maximum tolerated rectal volume (245 (115-450) vs. 194 (112-344) (P < 0.05) vs. 200 (109-350) (P < 0.138) ml). The rectal electrosensory threshold increased (20 (5.4-44) vs. 22 (9-50.5) (P < 0.134) vs. 31.5 (13.6-76) (P < 0.001) mA).
Conclusions: Anorectal symptoms at six weeks after pelvic radiotherapy are related to reduced rectal capacity and compounded at six months by diminished internal and external sphincter function and rectal mucosal sensitivity.