Pre-operative short-course radiotherapy is associated with faecal incontinence after anterior resection

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ObjectiveTo determine the contribution of total mesorectal excision (TME), short-course pre-operative radiotherapy (SCRT), the level of the anastomosis and other putative contributory factors to the incidence and degree of faecal incontinence after anterior resection of the rectum.Patients and methodsSurvivors of anterior resection of the rectum performed between February 1996 and February 2001, with a functioning anastomosis, were asked to complete a telephone questionnaire regarding their current bowel habit. Faecal incontinence was scored using the St. Mark's Incontinence Score.ResultsThe median age of 124 patients who completed the questionnaire was 76 years. Of these, 104 patients had neoplastic disease, 66 (53%) patients exhibited some degree of incontinence, median St. Marks' Score 6, interquartile range 3–10. There was a significant association between the anastomotic level, and the St. Mark's Score (P < 0.0001, linear regression). Male sex (P = 0.047), SCRT (P = 0.0014) and an anastomotic leak (P = 0.038) were associated with significantly higher incontinence scores. Age, splenic flexure mobilization, TME, anastomotic configuration or use of a temporary stoma had no detectable independent effect on incontinence scores.ConclusionsPoor functional outcome following anterior resection was associated with a low anastomosis, SCRT or an anastomotic leak. The finding that SCRT was a predictor of postoperative incontinence emphasizes the need for stringent patient selection for this treatment modality.

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