Postoperative bowel dysfunction affects quality of life after sphincter-preserving rectal cancer surgery, but the extent of the problem is not clearly defined because of inconsistent outcome measures used to characterize the condition.OBJECTIVE:
The purpose of this study was to assess variation in the reporting of postoperative bowel dysfunction and to make recommendations for standardization in future studies. If possible, a quantitative synthesis of bowel dysfunction symptoms was planned.DATA SOURCES:
MEDLINE and EMBASE databases, as well as the Cochrane Library, were queried systematically between 2004 and 2015.STUDY SELECTION:
The studies selected reported at least 1 component of bowel dysfunction after resection of rectal cancer.MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES:
The main outcome measures were reporting, measurement, and definition of postoperative bowel dysfunction.RESULTS:
Of 5428 studies identified, 234 met inclusion criteria. Widely reported components of bowel dysfunction were incontinence to stool (227/234 (97.0%)), frequency (168/234 (71.8%)), and incontinence to flatus (158/234 (67.5%)). Urgency and stool clustering were reported less commonly, with rates of 106 (45.3%) of 234 and 61 (26.1%) of 234. Bowel dysfunction measured as a primary outcome was associated with better reporting (OR = 3.49 (95% CI, 1.99–6.23); p < 0.001). Less than half of the outcomes were assessed using a dedicated research tool (337/720 (46.8%)), and the remaining descriptive measures were infrequently defined (56/383 (14.6%)).LIMITATIONS:
Heterogeneity in the reporting, measurement, and definition of postoperative bowel dysfunction precluded pooling of results and limited interpretation.CONCLUSIONS:
Considerable variation exists in the reporting, measurement, and definition of postoperative bowel dysfunction. These inconsistencies preclude reliable estimates of incidence and meta-analysis. A broadly accepted outcome measure may address this deficit in future studies.