Rectourethral fistulas are uncommon. Retrospective studies and case reports have highlighted various approaches for surgical repair. Because clinical presentations and technical expertise vary widely, no single procedure has been universally adopted.
We sought to qualitatively analyze studies describing surgical techniques and outcomes in adult acquired
rectourethral fistulas to outline universal approaches for evaluation and management.
MEDLINE (PubMed, Ovid) and the Cochrane Library were searched by using the terms rectourethral fistulas, recto-urethral fistulas, urethrorectal fistulas, and prostatourethral-rectal fistulas.
All studies were retrospective, in English, and reported at least 4 cases. Any series with >50% congenital cases or <50% adults (19+ years) was excluded. Of the 569 records identified, 26 articles were included.
The intervention was surgical repair of rectourethral fistula
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES:
The main outcome measures were successful fistula
recurrence or persistence, and permanent fecal and/or urinary diversion.
Four hundred sixteen patients were identified, including 169 (40%) who had previous pelvic irradiation and/or ablation. Most patients (90%) underwent 1 of 4 categories of repair: transanal (5.9%), transabdominal (12.5%), transsphincteric (15.7%), and transperineal (65.9%). Tissue interposition flaps, predominantly gracilis muscle, were used in 72% of repairs. The fistula
was successfully closed in 87.5%. Overall permanent fecal and/or urinary diversion rates were 10.6% and 8.3%. Most high-volume centers (≥25 patients) performed transperineal repairs with tissue flaps in 100% of cases.
This review was limited by the heterogeneity of repairs and bias toward preferred surgical approaches in single-center studies.
Regardless of complexity, rectourethral fistulas have an initial closure rate approaching 90% when the transperineal approach is used. Permanent fecal and/or urinary diversion should be a last resort in patients with devastated, nonfunctional fecal and urinary systems.