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Acta Oncol. 2008;47(6):994-1003. doi: 10.1080/02841860802195251.

Bowel dysfunction after treatment for rectal cancer.

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Department of Colorectal Surgery P, Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus C, Denmark.



Rectal cancer is a common disease in Western populations. Improved treatment modalities have resulted in increased survival and tumour control. With increasing survival there is a growing need for knowledge about the long-term side effects and functional results after the treatment.


To describe the long-term functional outcome in patients treated for rectal cancer through a systematic review of the current literature and to provide an outline of the promising developments within this area.


Standard resectional surgery with loss of the rectal reservoir function results in poor functional results in up to 50-60% of the patients. New methods of surgery including the construction of a neoreservoir and improvement of the technique for local excision have been developed to minimize the functional disturbances without compromising the oncological result. The addition of chemo and/or radiotherapy approximately doubles the risk of poor functional results. During the last decades the techniques for chemo/radiotherapy has been markedly improved with a positive impact on functional outcome. New methods for treatment of functional disturbances e.g. bowel irrigation and sacral nerve stimulation are currently under development.


To improve the functional outcome in this growing patient population several approaches can be taken. The primary cancer treatment must be improved by minimizing the surgical trauma and optimizing the imaging and radiation techniques. Population screening should be considered in order to find the cancers at an earlier stage, hereby increasing the proportion of patients eligible for local excision without the need for chemo/irradiation. All patients recovering from rectal resection should be examined and registered systematically regarding their functional results and treatment should be offered to the severely affected patients. More studies are still needed to evaluate the efficacy of irrigation and nerve stimulation in this patient group.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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