Chronic radiation proctitis complicating pelvic radiotherapy can be debilitating. It commonly presents with rectal bleeding, which can be difficult to control. Medical management of hemorrhagic radiation proctitis is not very successful, although surgery carries high risks. Thus, endoscopic treatments are preferred. The aim of this study is to assess the efficacy of argon plasma coagulation applied endoscopically to treat hemorrhagic radiation proctitis that has been refractory to topical formalin therapy.
Twelve patients who had ongoing bleeding from radiation proctitis, after previously failed formalin therapy, underwent endoscopic treatment using argon plasma coagulation. The efficacy of treatment was assessed by grading the frequency and severity of bleeding (0-4, 0 being no bleeding), hemoglobin level, and transfusion requirements.
At a median follow-up of 11 months, ten patients (83 percent) had a significant reduction in the severity and frequency of bleeding, with complete cessation in six (50 percent). The presence of coexistent radiation-induced sigmoiditis in two patients was associated with reduced but persistent bleeding, because of difficulty in targeting the bleeding sites in the sigmoid colon. The median number of treatment sessions per patient was two (range, 1-3), with the number of sessions correlated with the extent of the proctitis. All patients had an improvement in their hemoglobin level, with the mean increasing from 11.2 to 12.3 g/dl. In the six months before starting therapy, all patients had been taking iron supplements, and four had required blood transfusions (median 3 units, range, 2-6). Iron supplements were ceased four weeks after the completion of therapy in all cases, and no further transfusions were required during the study period. None of the patients experienced any significant side effects or complications.
Argon plasma coagulation is an effective and safe treatment for hemorrhagic radiation proctitis that has been refractory to topical formalin therapy.