Purpose: Serious late morbidity (Grade 3/4) from the conformal treatment of prostate cancer has been reported in <1% to 6% of patients based on existing late gastrointestinal (GI) morbidity scales. None of the existing morbidity scales include our most frequently observed late GI complication, which is chronic rectal bleeding requiring multiple fulgerations. This communication documents the frequency of rectal bleeding requiring multiple fulgerations and illustrates the variation in reported late serious GI complication rates by the selection of morbidity scale.
Methods and materials: Between May 1989 and December 1993, 352 patients with T1-T3 nonmetastatic prostate cancers were treated with our four-field conformal technique without special rectal blocking. This technique includes a 1-cm margin from the clinical target volume (CTV) to the planning target volume (PTV) in all directions. The median follow-up for these patients was 36 months (range 2-76), and the median center of prostate dose was 74 Gy (range 63-81). Three morbidity scales are assessed: the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG), the Late Effects Normal Tissue Task Force (LENT), and our modification of the LENT (FC-LENT). This modification registers chronic rectal bleeding requiring at least one blood transfusion and/or more than two coagulations as a Grade 3 event. Estimates for Grade 3/4 late GI complication rates were determined using Kaplan-Meier methodology. The duration of severe symptoms with chronic rectal bleeding is measured from the first to the last transrectal coagulation. Latency is measured from the end of radiotherapy to surgery, first blood transfusion, or third coagulation procedure.
Results: Sixteen patients developed Grade 3/4 complications by one of the three morbidity scales. Two patients required surgery (colostomy or sigmoid resection), three required multiple blood transfusions, two required one or two blood transfusions, and nine required at least three coagulations. The median duration of bleeding for those patients requiring multiple procedures was 7 months (range 3-33) and the median latency was 22 months (range 9-40). The 5-year actuarial rate of Grade 3/4 complications by each scale are: RTOG 0.7%, LENT 2%, and FC-LENT 6%. The rate of chronic rectal bleeding increases with increasing dose and is low in patients treated with conventional techniques owing to lower doses.
Conclusion: Chronic rectal bleeding requiring any blood transfusion(s) or multiple coagulation procedures is our most frequently observed complication. This complication appears late in follow-up and is present for a long duration. We believe this justifies the inclusion of chronic rectal bleeding requiring multiple coagulation procedures as a Grade 3 event in future morbidity scales. Our data illustrate that published Grade 3/4 morbidity rates are highly dependent on the morbidity scale selected, as our data show 0.7% RTOG, 2% LENT, and 6% FC-LENT. Obviously, a uniform scale is required that includes the newly recognized serious late effects associated with the conformal treatment of prostate cancer.