SAN DIEGO (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – During the annual clinical congress of the American College of Surgeons, a panel of experts discussed a wide range of evolving controversies in the management of complicated diverticulitis.

John Migaly, MD , kicked off the session by exploring the current evidence for laparoscopic lavage versus primary resection for Hinchey III diverticulitis. “Over the past two decades there has been a growing utilization of primary resection and reanastomoses with or without the use of ileostomy,” said Dr. Migaly, director of the general surgery residency program at Duke University, Durham, N.C. “And most recently over the last 5 or 10 years there’s been growing enthusiasm for laparoscopic lavage for Hinchey III diverticulitis. The enthusiasm for this procedure is based on [its accessibility] to all of us who operate on the colon in the acute setting.”

According to Dr. Migaly, the use of laparoscopic lavage for Hinchey III diverticulitis has been explored in three published randomized controlled trials to date: the LADIES trial, the DILALA trial, and the SCANDIV trial. The LADIES trial was a multicenter, parallel group, randomized, open-label study conducted at 34 teaching hospitals, including eight academic centers in Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands ( Lancet 2015;386:1269-77 ). “In the planned data and safety analysis, the trial was suspended because of composite short-term adverse events: they were 39% for laparoscopic lavage and 19% for sigmoidectomy,” Dr. Migaly said. The researchers also found that 76% of lavage patients left the hospital without a second surgery and there was failure to control sepsis in 24% of the lavage group. This led the authors to conclude that lavage is not superior to sigmoidectomy.

The DILALA trial makes the best case for laparoscopic lavage, “but it doesn’t make a very good one,” he commented. The trial was conducted in nine surgical departments in Sweden and Denmark ( Ann Surg. 2016;263[1]:117-22 ). Hinchey III patients were randomized 1:1 to laparoscopic lavage or the Hartmann procedure. The primary outcome was reoperations within 12 months. An early analysis of the short-term outcomes in 83 patients found similar 30-day and 90-day mortality and morbidity. Its authors concluded that laparoscopic lavage had equivalent morbidity and mortality compared with radical resection, shorter operative time, shorter time in the recovery unit, a shorter hospital stay, but no difference in the rate of reoperation.

“It was found to be safe and feasible,” Dr. Migaly said. One year later, the researchers presented their 12-month outcomes and came to the same conclusions. Limitations of the data are that it was conducted in nine centers “but they enrolled only 83 patients, so it seems underpowered,” he said. “And there was no mention of the incidence of abdominal abscess requiring percutaneous drainage or episodes of diverticulitis. The data seem a little less granular than the LADIES trial.”

The SCANDIV trial is the largest study on the topic to date, a randomized clinical superiority trial conducted at 21 centers in Sweden and Norway ( JAMA 2015;314[13]:1364-75 ). Of the 509 patients screened, 415 were eligible and 199 were enrolled: 101 to laparoscopic lavage, 98 to colon resection. The primary endpoint was severe postoperative complications within 90 days, defined as a Clavien-Dindo score of over 3. The researchers found no difference in major complications nor in 90-day mortality between the two groups. The rate of reoperation was significantly higher in the lavage group, compared with the resection group (20.3% vs. 5.7%, respectively). Four sigmoid cancers were missed in the lavage group and, while the length of operation was significantly shorter in the lavage group, there were no differences between the two groups in hospital length of stay or quality of life.

A meta-analysis of the three randomized controlled trials that Dr. Migaly reviewed concluded that laparoscopic lavage, compared with resection, for Hinchey III diverticulitis increased the rate of total reoperations, the rate of reoperation for infection, and the rate of subsequent percutaneous drainage ( J Gastrointest Surg 2017;21[9]:1491-99 ). A larger, more recent meta-analysis of 589 patients, including the three randomized controlled trials that Dr. Migaly discussed, concluded that laparoscopic lavage patients, compared with resection patients, had three times the risk of persistent peritonitis, intra-abdominal abscess, and emergency reoperative surgery. “Therefore, a reasonable conclusion would be that data at this point does not support the use of laparoscopic lavage,” he said.

The next speaker, David J. Maron, MD , discussed what to do after successful percutaneous drainage of diverticular abscess: wait and watch or operate? Diverticular abscess occurs in 10%-57% of patients. It can occur from a perforated diverticulum on the antimesenteric portion of the colon, a mesenteric abscess from a diverticulum in the mesentery, or from a pyogenic lymph node. “These abscesses may or may not communicate with the colon itself,” he said.

The initial procedure of choice for most patients is abscess drainage via CT-guided percutaneous drainage. “There are some patients who are not candidates for percutaneous drainage, [such as] if the abscess is not accessible to the radiologist, if the patient is anticoagulated, and if the patient requires emergent surgical intervention irrespective of the abscess,” said Dr. Maron, a colorectal surgeon who practices at Cleveland Clinic Florida, Weston. “There is also a question of cavity size. Most authors in the literature use a cut-off of 3-4 cm.”

The goal is complete drainage of the abscess, and sometimes multiple catheters will be required. One study found that predictors of successful abscess drainage included having a well-defined, unilocular abscess. The success rate fell to 63% for patients who presented with more complex abscesses, including those that were loculated, poorly defined, associated with a fistula, and contained feces or semisolid material ( Dis Colon Rectum. 1997;40:1009-13 ).

The 2014 ASCRS Practice Parameters includes the recommendation that elective colectomy should typically be considered after the patient recovers from an episode of complicated diverticulitis, “but some of the data may be calling that into question,” Dr. Maron said. In one series of 18 patients with an abscess treated percutaneously, 11 refused surgery and 7 had significant comorbidity ( Dis Colon Rectum. 2014;57:331-6 ). Three patients died of a pre-existing condition and 7 of the 15 surviving patients had recurrent diverticulitis. Three underwent surgery and four were treated medically. The authors found no association between long-term failure and abscess location or previous episodes of diverticulitis.

In a larger study, researchers identified 218 patients who were initially treated with intravenous antibiotics and percutaneous drain ( Dis Colon Rectum. 2013;56:622-6 ). About 10% of the patients required an urgent operation, while most of the other patients underwent elective resection, but 15% of patients did not undergo a subsequent colectomy. “Most of these patients were medically unfit to undergo surgery,” he noted. Abscess location was more commonly paracolic than pelvic. The mean abscess size was 4.2 cm, and the drain was left in for a median of 20 days. The recurrence rate in this series was only 30%, but none of the recurrences required surgery. The authors found that abscesses greater than 5 cm in size were associated with a greater risk of recurrence (P = .003). They concluded that observation after percutaneous drainage is safe in selected patients.

Based on results from this and other more recent studies, Dr. Maron said that it remains unclear whether surgeons should wait and watch or operate after successful percutaneous drainage of diverticular abscess. The data are “not as robust as we’d like … most of these are retrospective studies,” he said. “There’s quite a bit of inherent selection bias, and there is no standardization with regard to length of time of percutaneous drain, rationale for nonoperative management versus elective colectomy. What we do know is that there are some patients who can be managed safely without surgery. Unfortunately, there is no good algorithm I can offer you: Perhaps larger abscesses can portend a higher recurrence. I don’t think we’ll have a good answer to this until we perform a prospective randomized trial. However, we may learn some data from patients managed by peritoneal lavage and drain placement.”

The next speaker, Tracy L. Hull, MD , offered tips on how to determine which procedure to perform at the time of emergency surgery for complicated diverticulitis: the Hartmann’s procedure, primary anastomosis, or primary anastomosis and proximal diversion. First, consider how stable patient are likely to be after the perforated segment is taken out. “What’s their overall health?” asked Dr. Hull, a staff surgeon in the department of colorectal surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. “What are their tissues like? And what’s the degree of contamination?”

Next, consider how to perform the procedure: laparoscopic or open? “But again, you’re going to look at how stable your patient is, what your skill set is, what equipment is available, and if the patient has had previous abdominal surgeries,” she advised. “In the traditional Hartmann procedure, you resect the perforated segment. You try not to open any tissue planes that you don’t have to. You do just enough so you can bring up a colostomy; you close the rectum or you make a mucous fistula. The problem with this operation is that up to 80% of these patients have their colostomy closed. That is why there is all this controversy. If there is any question, this [procedure] is always the safest option; there’s no anastomosis.”

What about a performing resection and a colorectal anastomosis? This is usually done more commonly in the elective situation, “when things are perfect, when you have healthy tissue,” Dr. Hull said. “If you do it in the emergent situation you have to think to yourself, ‘Could my patient tolerate a leak?’ You won’t want to do this operation on a 72-year-old who’s on steroids for chronic pulmonary disease and has coronary artery disease, because if they had a leak, they’d probably die.”

The third procedural option is to resect bowel (usually sigmoid) with colorectal anastomosis and diversion (loop ileostomy). “This is always my preferred choice,” Dr. Hull said. “I always am thinking, ‘Why can’t I do this?’ The reason is, closure of ileostomy is much easier than a Hartmann reversal, and 90% of these patients get reversed.” In a multicenter trial conducted by Swedish researchers, 62 patients were randomized to Hartmann’s procedure versus primary anastomosis with diverting ileostomy for perforated left-sided diverticulitis ( Ann Surg. 2012;256[5]:819-27 ). The mortality and complications were similar, but the number of patients who got their stoma reversed was significantly less in the Hartmann’s group, compared with the primary anastomosis group (57% vs. 90%, respectively), and the serious complications were much higher in the Hartmann’s group (20% vs. 0). She cited an article from the World Journal of Emergency Surgery as one of the most comprehensive reviews of the subject.

A systematic review and meta-analysis of 14 studies involving 1,041 patients concluded that “colon resection with primary anastomosis in terms of lower mortality rate and postoperative stay should be interpreted with caution,” due to variable quality of individual studies and the presence of patient selection bias ( Int J Colorectal Dis. 2013;28:447-57 ). Another systematic review and meta-analysis of 4,062 patients found that the primary resection-anastomosis technique is better than Hartmann’s for all considered outcomes ( J Surg. 2016;12[2]:43-9 ).

So what is a surgeon to do? For an anastomosis after resection, “consider patient factors: Are they stable?” Dr. Hull said. “What are their comorbid conditions? You have to think, ‘What is my preference? Am I comfortable putting this back together?’ But a primary anastomosis is feasible, even in the acute setting with or without diverting ileostomy. The laparoscopic approach is typically preferred, but if that’s not in your armamentarium, the open [approach] is just fine. You should always perform a leak test. You can also do on table colonic lavage if feasible, especially if you have a large stool burden.”

None of the speakers reported having financial disclosures.