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Curr Med Res Opin. 2010 Mar;26(3):707-11. doi: 10.1185/03007990903566798.

Gas in portal circulation and pneumatosis cystoides intestinalis during chemotherapy for advanced rectal cancer.

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  • 1Catholic University of Sacred Heart, Agostino Gemelli Medical School, Rome, Italy.



Acute abdominal symptoms with CT scan evidence of intramural gas in bowel walls (pneumatosis cystoides intestinalis, PCI) and of gas in the portal venous blood (PBG) in patients undergoing chemotherapy may represent a worrisome picture, suggestive of bowel necrosis. This picture remains a major clinical clue and the reporting of new cases may help to share awareness and experience on management. We describe a patient with acute abdominal symptoms and evidence of PCI with PBG under cetuximab, oxaliplatin, tegafur-uracil and folinic acid chemotherapy for metastatic adenocarcinoma of the rectosigmoid junction.


After admission for mucositis with diarrhea and profound dehydration, and subsequent emergency laparotomy for derotation of an intestinal volvulus, on the tenth postoperative day the patient developed fever and abdominal pain, with CT scan evidence of PCI with PBG. The exam of the abdomen did not suggest major problems requiring emergency surgery, and antibiotic treatment with close monitoring were performed, followed by rapid improvement.


Twelve days later, after resumption of oral diet, the patient unexpectedly suffered a spontaneous jejunal microperforation, requiring emergency laparotomy and bowel resection. Pathology showed that the perforation was within an area of ulceration involving the inner superficial layer of the bowel. Subsequently recovery was normal and at present, after 15 months, the patient is well and continuing chemotherapy.


This is probably the first report of PCI with PBG related to intestinal toxicity during cetuximab, oxaliplatin, tegafur-uracil and folinic acid chemotherapy in a patient with advanced rectal carcinoma, followed by delayed small bowel perforation. It provides an example of the challenges involved in the management of this type of patient.

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