BACKGROUND: Anastomotic leaks after low anterior resection for rectal cancer remain a major cause of morbidity and mortality. Few studies have focused on their management, particularly on the technique of transanal drainage.
OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to assess the short- and long-term outcomes according to the initial management of clinical leaks.
DESIGN AND SETTINGS: This study is a retrospective review of a single institution experience.
PATIENTS: All patients treated for a symptomatic anastomotic leak after low anterior resection for rectal cancer between January 2000 and March 2011 were included.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: The primary outcomes were mortality attributed to the leak, sepsis control, stoma closure rate, and functional results.
RESULTS: A total of 37 patients (35 men/2 women) developed a symptomatic leak. Leaks were initially managed by transanal drainage in 16 patients, abdominal reintervention in 12 patients, and medical treatment in 9 patients. The only death attributed to the leak occurred in the abdominal reintervention group. In the transanal drainage group, antibiotics were administered for a median length of 9 days, and the drain was left in place for a median length of 30 days. One patient underwent percutaneous drainage of a collection in addition to transanal drainage, but no patient required abdominal reintervention. Of the treatment modalities applied, transanal drainage was associated with the highest stoma closure rate (93%), after a median postoperative time of 7 months. Complications observed after transanal drainage were anastomotic strictures in 33% and the creation of a permanent stoma due to poor function in 13%.
LIMITATIONS: This study was limited by its nonrandomized retrospective design and the presence of selection bias.
CONCLUSIONS: For the management of low anastomotic leaks, transanal drainage allows preservation of the anastomosis and sepsis control with a high rate of ileostomy closure. It is a valuable option in patients with a diverting ileostomy.