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Colorectal Dis. 2011 Dec;13(12):1326-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1463-1318.2010.02384.x.

Where does pelvic nerve injury occur during rectal surgery for cancer?

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  • 1Laboratory of Experimental Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, University Paris-Sud 11, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, France.



Optimal treatment of rectal adenocarcinoma involves total mesorectal excision with nerve-preserving dissection. Urinary and sexual dysfunction is still frequent following these procedures. Improved knowledge of pelvic nerve anatomy may help reduce this and define the key anatomical zones at risk.


The MEDLINE database was searched for available literature on pelvic nerve anatomy and damage after rectal surgery using the key words 'autonomic nerve', 'pelvic nerve', 'colorectal surgery', and 'genitourinary dysfunction'. All relevant French and English publications up to May 2010 were reviewed. Reviewed data were illustrated using 3D reconstruction of the foetal pelvis.


The ligation of the inferior mesenteric artery and dissection of the retrorectal space can cause damage to the superior hypogastric plexus and/or hypogastric nerve. Anterolateral dissection in the 'lateral ligament' area and division of Denonvilliers' fascia can damage the inferior hypogastric plexus and efferent pathways. Perineal dissection can indirectly damage the pudendal nerve.


In most cases, the pelvic nerves can be preserved during rectal surgery. Complete oncological resection may require dissection close to the nerves where the tumour is located anterolaterally where it is fixed and when the pelvis is narrow.

© 2011 The Authors. Colorectal Disease © 2011 The Association of Coloproctology of Great Britain and Ireland.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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