Objective: Neutropenic enterocolitis is a life-threatening complication occurring most frequently after intensive chemotherapy in acute leukaemias. The literature is heterogeneous and a systematic review is lacking.
Methods: Following a systematic search we categorised all relevant reports according to their quality and extracted evidence to answer the questions: Which diagnostic criteria are appropriate? What is the incidence of neutropenic enterocolitis? Are there good quality studies supporting specific interventions: Which empiric antimicrobial therapy is recommendable? Is neutropenic enterocolitis without surgical emergency complications an indication for bowel resection?
Results: We found and analysed 145 articles of these reports: 64 were reports of single cases, 30 papers reported of two or three cases, 13 were narrative reviews, 34 were retrospective case series of more than three cases and four were prospective diagnostic studies. There were no prospective trials or case control studies on the therapy of neutropenic enterocolitis. There was no consensus on diagnostic criteria. We discuss the difficulty to define diagnostic criteria without having a disease definition. Histology is mostly not available in the living patients. We suggest applying a combination of clinical and radiological criteria: fever, abdominal pain and any bowel wall thickening >4 mm detected by ultrasonography (US) or computed tomography. We calculated a pooled incidence rate from 21 studies of 5.3% (266/5058; 95% CI: 4.7%-5.9%) in patients hospitalised for haematological malignancies, for high-dose chemotherapy in solid tumours or for aplastic anaemia.
Conclusions: This systematic review provides diagnostic criteria for neutropenic enterocolitis, presents a quantitative synthesis on its incidence and discusses its treatment recommendations. Prospective studies are clearly warranted.
(c) Blackwell Munksgaard 2005.