Intraoperative irradiation appears to be a valuable addition to the modalities available to treat patients with large bowel cancer. However, its potential effect on healing of anastomoses has not been investigated extensively. For this purpose, male Wistar rats underwent colonic resection. Subsequently, 1 cm of each bowel end was irradiated with doses of 10, 15, 20 or 25 Gy and intestinal continuity was restored. After 3 or 7 days, animals were killed and the anastomoses were analyzed for bursting pressure (intraluminal force), breaking strength (longitudinal force) and hydroxyproline content. Intraoperative irradiation led to a massive (40-70%) and significant (P < 0.025) reduction in bursting pressure 3 days after operation compared to the control group for every dose used. After 7 days, the bursting site was outside the area of the anastomosis in all groups. The breaking strength at day 3 was also reduced, even after 10 Gy. At day 7, when tearing still occurred in the wound area, the breaking strength was still significantly lower in the 15- and 25-Gy groups than in the control group. The hydroxyproline content of the anastomoses was significantly reduced only after irradiation with the higher doses. Thus intraoperative irradiation constitutes a threat to early strength of anastomoses in the rat colon, and even at moderate doses it may threaten the integrity of the anastomosis.

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