Background: Colonic stents potentially offer effective palliation for those with bowel obstruction attributable to incurable malignancy, and a "bridge to surgery" for those in whom emergency surgery would necessitate a stoma. The current study compared the outcomes of stents and open surgery in the management of malignant large bowel obstruction.
Methods: A literature search of the Medline, Ovid, Embase and Cochrane databases was performed to identify comparative studies reporting outcomes on colonic stenting and surgery for large bowel obstruction. Random effects meta-analytical techniques were applied to identify differences in outcomes between the two groups. Sensitivity analysis of high quality studies, those reporting on more than 35 patients, those solely concerning colorectal cancer and studies performing intention to treat analysis was undertaken to evaluate the study heterogeneity.
Results: A total of 10 studies satisfied the criteria for inclusion, with outcomes reported for 451 patients. Stent insertion was attempted for 244 patients (54.1%), and proved successful for 226 (92.6%). The length of hospital stay was shorter by 7.72 days in the stent group (p < 0.001), which also had lower mortality (p = 0.03) and fewer medical complications (p < 0.001). Stoma formation at any point during management was significantly lower than in the stent group (odds ratio, 0.02; p < 0.001), and "bridging to surgery" did not adversely influence survival.
Conclusions: Colonic stenting offers effective palliation for malignant bowel obstruction, with short lengths of hospital stay and a low rate for stoma formation, but data on quality of life and economic evaluation are limited. There is no evidence of differences in long-term survival between those who have stents followed by subsequent resection and those undergoing emergency bowel resection.