A prospective study on radical and nerve-preserving surgery for rectal cancer in the Netherlands

C P Maas, Y Moriya, W H Steup, E Klein Kranenbarg, C J van de Velde
European Journal of Surgical Oncology 2000, 26 (8): 751-7

INTRODUCTION: Preservation of the pelvic autonomic nerves is thought to lower bladder and sexual dysfunction after rectal cancer surgery. A prospective study was undertaken in a Dutch population to evaluate functional outcome, local recurrence and survival of a Japanese operative technique combining nerve preservation with radical tumour resection.

METHODS: Forty-seven patients were operated upon by a Japanese surgeon. Voiding and sexual function were prospectively analysed using questionnaires. Two-year follow-up on urinary function was complete in 73%, and 2-year follow-up of male sexual function was complete in 77%. Median follow-up for survival and recurrence was 42 months and was complete in all patients.

RESULTS: Five patients (19%) developed minor urinary incontinence in the period between 1 and 2 years of follow-up. Six patients (22%) had a persistently elevated frequency of voiding. There was no statistically significant correlation between the extent of nerve preservation and the reported minor voiding dysfunctions. None of the patients reported major incontinence of urine. Impotence was related to sacrifice of the inferior hypogastric plexus and ejaculatory dysfunction was related to sacrifice of the superior hypogastric plexus. Sexual function did not change during follow-up. Of 42 curatively-operated patients, three (7.1%) developed local recurrence. Sixty-seven per cent were overall free of recurrence. Disease-free survival was 57%.

CONCLUSIONS: Preservation of the pelvic autonomic nerves minimizes bladder dysfunction after rectal cancer surgery. The preservation of the total autonomic nerve system is essential for normal sexual function in male patients. Nerve preservation does not compromise radicality in mesorectal excision. Mesorectal excision should involve identification and preservation of the pelvic autonomic nerves.

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