Management of Low Colorectal Anastomotic Leakage in the Laparoscopic Era: More Than a Decade of Experience

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Anastomotic leak after colorectal surgery increases postoperative mortality, cancer recurrence, permanent stoma formation, and poor bowel function. Anastomosis between the colon and rectum is a particularly high risk. Traditional management mandates laparotomy, disassembly of the anastomosis, and formation of an often-permanent stoma. After laparoscopic colorectal surgery it may be possible to manage anastomotic failure with laparoscopy, thus avoiding laparotomy.


The purpose of this study was to determine the feasibility of the laparoscopic management of failed low colorectal anastomoses.


This was a single-institute case series.


A total of 555 laparoscopic patients undergoing anterior resection with primary anastomosis within 10 cm of the anus in the period 2000–2012 were included.


Anastomotic failure, defined as any clinical or radiological demonstrable defect in the anastomosis; complications using the Clavien–Dindo system; mortality within 30 days; and patient demographics and risk factors, as defined by the Charlson index, were measured.


Leakage occurred in 44 (7.9%) of 555 patients, 16 patients with a diverting ileostomy and 28 with no diverting ileostomy. Leakage was more common in those with anastomoses <5 cm form the anus, male patients, and those with a colonic J-pouch and rectal cancer. Diverting ileostomy was not protective of anastomotic leakage. In those patients with anastomotic leakage and a primary diverting ileostomy, recourse to the peritoneal cavity was required in 4 of 16 patients versus 24 of 28 without a diverting ileostomy (p = 0.0002). In 74% of those cases, access to the peritoneal cavity was achieved through laparoscopy. Permanent stoma rates were very low, including 14 (2.5%) of 555 total patients or 8 (18.0%) of 44 patients with anastomotic leakage. Thirty-day mortality was rare (0.6%).


This study was limited by the lack of a cohort of open cases for comparison.


Laparoscopic anterior resection is associated with low levels of complications, including anastomotic leak, postoperative mortality, and permanent stoma formation. Anastomotic leakage can be managed with laparoscopy in the majority of cases. See Video Abstract at

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