Outcome and Determinants of Neutropenic Enterocolitis in Pediatric Cancer Patients

J Pediatr Hematol Oncol. 2022 Oct 1;44(7):376-382. doi: 10.1097/MPH.0000000000002422. Epub 2022 Apr 22.


Background: Neutropenic enterocolitis (NEC) is a dreaded complication of chemotherapy. There is scant literature regarding incidence, clinical features, and determinants. The understanding of gut dysbiosis in NEC and pediatric cancer is evolving.

Methods: Pediatric cancer patients with neutropenia and gastrointestinal symptoms were evaluated for NEC with contrast-enhanced computed tomography abdomen. Clinical, imaging, and laboratory features were analyzed. Fecal samples were analyzed for fecal calprotectin by sandwich enzyme-linked immunoassay and gut microbiota by conventional culture and compared with healthy controls and children without NEC.

Results: NEC was diagnosed in 44 children based on clinical and imaging features with incidence of 7.4% (4 had recurrent episodes). Common manifestations included fever (98%), pain abdomen (88%), and diarrhea (83%). Hypoalbuminemia was observed in 78% of patients. Large bowel involvement (94%) with diffuse bowel involvement (63%) and pancolitis (64%) were common. Fecal calprotectin was significantly elevated in NEC group than non-NEC group and healthy controls (median: 87, 53, and 42 µg/g, respectively). A higher degree of gut dysbiosis was observed in children with NEC with higher isolation of Bacteroides and infrequent isolation of Lactobacilli. Mortality rate of 23% was observed. Only the presence of free fluid predicted higher mortality. Though levels of fecal calprotectin and gut dysbiosis were higher in NEC, they did not increase mortality. Isolation of Bacteroides and absence of Lactobacilli predicted a longer duration of intravenous alimentation.

Conclusions: NEC caused significant morbidity and mortality in pediatric cancer patients. Gut dysbiosis was significantly higher in NEC group suggesting a role in pathogenesis and influencing outcome. This highlights the role of targeted interventions towards gut dysbiosis like prebiotics and probiotics.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Dysbiosis / complications
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing* / complications
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing* / diagnosis
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing* / epidemiology
  • Enterocolitis, Neutropenic* / complications
  • Enterocolitis, Neutropenic* / etiology
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Leukocyte L1 Antigen Complex
  • Neoplasms* / complications
  • Neoplasms* / drug therapy


  • Leukocyte L1 Antigen Complex