A fatal case of Fournier's gangrene during neoadjuvant radiotherapy for rectal cancer

Strahlenther Onkol. 2019 May;195(5):441-446. doi: 10.1007/s00066-018-1401-4. Epub 2018 Nov 23.


Purpose: To report the development of an ultimately fatal occurrence of Fournier's gangrene in a rectal cancer patient undergoing neoadjuvant radiotherapy without chemotherapy.

Methods: A 53-year-old male patient with G2 cT3 cN1a cM0 stage IIIB adenocarcinoma of the lower rectum and several comorbidities including ulcerative colitis was treated with 56 Gy to the primary tumor in 28 fractions because he declined the recommended simultaneous chemotherapy. He was also enrolled in the ketogenic diet arm of our KETOCOMP study, so that prospective measurements of blood parameters, quality of life, and body composition were made.

Results: The patient died 6 days after completion of radiotherapy due to septic shock associated with Fournier's gangrene reaching from the right buttock into the gluteal muscles and descending into the scrotum. In retrospect, there were several signs probably indicating the development of the gangrene: (i) a decline in bioelectrical phase angle; (ii) an accelerated weight and fat-free mass loss starting in the third week of radiotherapy; (iii) an increase in C-reactive protein (CRP) and concurrent drop in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and insulin-like growth factor(IGF)-1 concentrations; and (iv) the occurrence of a sharp pain in the perianal region reported in the fifth week of radiotherapy. Notably, his self-reported quality of life score was the same at the end of as before radiotherapy.

Conclusions: This case highlights the occurrence of Fournier's gangrene as an extremely rare but life-threatening complication during neoadjuvant radiotherapy for rectal cancer which should be refreshed in the awareness of radiation oncologists and radiologists.

Keywords: Bioimpedance analysis; Body composition; Grade V toxicity; KETOCOMP study; Ketogenic diet.

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / mortality*
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Adenocarcinoma / radiotherapy*
  • Cause of Death
  • Comorbidity
  • Dose Fractionation, Radiation
  • Fournier Gangrene / mortality*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoadjuvant Therapy / adverse effects*
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant / adverse effects*
  • Rectal Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Rectal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Rectal Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Risk Factors