LAS VEGAS (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Colorectal surgery is rife with potential complications, but there are steps that surgeons can take to improve outcomes, and factors to consider to reduce complications. These strategies and considerations were the focus of a talk by Matthew G. Mutch, MD, at the Annual Minimally Invasive Surgery Symposium by Global Academy for Medical Education.


The approach to improve outcomes can begin with prehabilitation – preparing the patient for the difficult process of surgery. “If somebody is going to fight a 15-round heavyweight bout, they train for 6 or 8 weeks before a fight. Why not bring that concept to surgery?” said Dr. Mutch, chief of colon and rectal surgery at the Washington University, St. Louis.

Prehabilitation can include lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, but can also incorporate aerobic and/or resistance exercise, dietary counseling and protein supplementation, anxiety reduction, and medical education to prepare the patient for the challenges ahead. “Preoperatively, we try to identify factors to see if we can make meaningful lifestyle changes, because that’s really the grassroots level where a lot of this [improvement in outcomes] is going to occur,” said Dr. Mutch.


Frailty is a factor driving complications in colorectal surgery. A meta-analysis of 20 studies showed that frailty and prefrailty were associated with worse all-cause mortality during follow-up among older cancer patients. More striking, it showed that frail patients were nearly five times more likely to be intolerant of cancer treatment (odds ratio, 4.86) and more likely to experience postoperative complications (30-day hazard ratio, 3.19) ( Ann Oncol. 2015;26[6]:1091-1101 ).

Hemoglobin A1c

Dr. Mutch went on to discuss hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels as a risk factor in colorectal surgery. HbA1c levels higher than 6 are associated with worse outcomes, but tight postoperative control is associated with hypoglycemia. “What you want to do is set that patient up before surgery. HbA1c has a half-life of about a month, so if you start modifying their risk factors 4-6 weeks before you get them into surgery, by 1 month you can see a 50% reduction, and at 2 months a 75% reduction. If you do these things in a preoperative setting it makes a difference,” said Dr. Mutch.

Smoking cessation

Smoking cessation is another key strategy. Two weeks of cessation should lead to a decline in coughing, but a minimum of 4 weeks is needed to significantly reduce overall complications. Lifestyle changes need to be long term. “These are not measures that you’re going to do over a short period of time, and then when surgery is over throw it out the window,” said Dr. Mutch.

Anastomotic leak

Another factor is the detection of anastomotic leak, which can be challenging because its definitions vary significantly, and its causes can be multifactorial. Studies show that predictions of anastomotic leak are not especially successful, Dr. Mutch said, but routine leak testing improves outcomes. In a study of left-side anastomoses in Washington State, hospitals that performed leak tests had lower leak rates at least 90% of the time (OR, 0.23), and hospitals that later implemented leak tests experienced a significant reduction ( Arch Surg. 2012:147[4]:345-51 ).

Venous thromboembolic events

Venous thromboembolic events (VTE), are the leading cause of operative mortality in colorectal surgery patients. This complication can be greatly reduced with prophylaxis, but requires screening for risk factors. Major surgery raises the risk of deep vein thrombosis in 20% of all hospitalized patients to 40%-80%, depending on the surgery type. “We have a lot of room to improve,” said Dr. Mutch.

In cancer patients, VTE risk can also be reduced by prophylaxis with enoxaparin, he said ( N Engl J Med. 2002;346[13]:975-80 ). “All of our patients who get major abdominal surgery, we send home on 21 days of [enoxaparin], he said. He added that all patients who get a major abdominal operation, particularly cancer patients with two or three risk factors, [are sent] home on extended prophylaxis.”


One factor that may have an impact on complications appears to be timing of surgery, at least at Washington University, where Dr. Mutch practices. The institution found that patients who had surgery the same day they were admitted had a 2.5% VTE risk, compared with 11% in patients who had surgery 5 or more days after admission.

Postop ambulation

Postsurgical ambulation was another critical complication factor. Dr. Mutch cited a study showing that ambulation on the day after surgery was associated with a 1% VTE risk, compared to 6.9% in patients who waited until day 2.

Dr. Mutch had no disclosures. Global Academy for Medical Education and this news organization are owned by the same parent company.


You May Also Like