Purpose: Objectives of surgical treatment for transsphincteric and complex anorectal fistulas are the successful elimination of current/recurrent disease and the preservation of sphincter function. The concept of endorectal advancement flaps is to preserve the sphincter by closing off the primary opening by means of a mobilized flap. We performed a systematic review of the literature to assess the role of this technique.
Methods: A literature search on transanal rectal advancement flaps to treat cryptoglandular or Crohn fistula-in-ano was performed for the 30-year period between 1978 and 2008. Rectovaginal/rectourinary or cancer-related fistulas were excluded. Each study was examined for length of follow-up and the 2 major end points: success rate and incontinence rate.
Results: From 35 studies with 2065 patients, we identified 1654 patients undergoing endorectal advancement flaps for cryptoglandular or Crohn disease. Four hundred eleven subjects were excluded (319 rectovaginal/rectourinary fistulas; 92 other causes). The quality of the reports was limited (low-level evidence) with numerous structural and design flaws. Weighted success and incontinence rates were 80.8%/13.2% for cryptoglandular and 64%/9.4% for Crohn fistulas.
Conclusion: Endorectal advancement flap is one tool, although not a perfect one, to treat complex anorectal fistulas of cryptoglandular or Crohn origin. Higher level evidence would be needed for comparison with other surgical techniques.