Background: Between 2 and 5% of patients undergoing pelvic radiotherapy develop chronic radiation proctopathy, occurring as a result of damage to the rectal mucosa during the treatment. Rectal bleeding of varying severity can occur as a consequence. There have been no formal trials of treatment for haemorrhagic radiation proctopathy and a variety of methods are currently used.
Aim: In a retrospective study of 20 patients treated at a single centre, we assessed the efficacy of small volume topical formalin instillation to control bleeding from radiation proctopathy.
Method: Patients were treated by a single operator using 20 mL of a 5% solution of formalin instilled into the rectum via a flexible sigmoidoscope for 3 min. Patients were followed up for an average of 22.7 months (range: 2-69).
Results: A single session of formalin treatment was effective in 13 of 20 (65%) patients and a further four (20%) patients responded to a second treatment. No complications of the treatment was identified.
Conclusion: Small volume formalin instillation therapy appears to be safe and effective in the context of haemorrhagic radiation proctopathy. The technique is simple, inexpensive, quick and requires no sedation. We suggest that it should be considered as a first line for patients presenting with this distressing condition.