Forty nine patients with rectosigmoid carcinoma considered unsuitable for surgery underwent endoscopic Nd:YAG laser treatment for palliation of symptoms and tumour eradication, if feasible. Altogether 25 (51%) of the lesions had distal margins less than 7 cm from the anus and 36 (73%) extended above the peritoneal reflection. In seven patients with tumours less than 3 cm in diameter, symptomatic improvement was achieved in all (mean follow up 16 months) and complete tumour eradication in three. In the remaining 42 patients with larger tumours (34 greater than 2/3 circumferential, mean length 5.5 cm), symptomatic improvement was achieved with repeated treatments (average 3.4) in 31 (74%) over a mean follow up of 19 weeks. Of the parameters assessed, only circumferential tumour extent proved significant in predicting functional outcome after treatment. All treatment failures (eight initial, three late) occurred in patients with extensive tumours, and only seven of these patients were considered fit for colostomy. Bowel perforation occurred in two patients (5%) but there was no treatment-related mortality. Mean stay in hospital for all laser treatments was nine days (30% were outpatient attendances). These results suggest that laser therapy may be the palliative treatment of choice in patients with rectal carcinoma unsuitable for surgery.
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