Background: The most important surgical complication following rectal resection with anastomosis is symptomatic anastomotic leakage, which is associated with a 6-22 per cent mortality rate. The aim of this retrospective study was to evaluate the risk factors for clinical anastomotic leakage after anterior resection for cancer of the rectum.
Methods: From 1980 to 1995, 272 consecutive anterior resections for rectal cancer were performed by the same surgical team; 131 anastomoses were situated 5 cm or less from the anal verge. The associations between clinical anastomotic leakage and 19 patient-, tumour-, surgical-, and treatment-related variables were studied by univariate and multivariate analysis.
Results: The rate of clinical anastomotic leakage was 12 per cent (32 of 272). Multivariate analysis of the overall population showed that only male sex and level of anastomosis were independent factors for development of anastomotic leakage. The risk of leakage was 6.5 times higher for anastomoses situated less than 5 cm from the anal verge than for those situated above 5 cm; it was 2.7 times higher for men than for women. In a second analysis of low anastomoses (5 cm or less from the anal verge; n = 131), obesity was statistically associated with leakage.
Conclusion: A protective stoma is suitable after sphincter-saving resection for rectal cancer for anastomoses situated at or less than 5 cm from the anal verge, particularly for men and obese patients.