PURPOSE: Preservation of the anal sphincter in surgery for cancer of the distal rectum in an attempt to avoid colostomy has been a main concern of colorectal surgeons. Various proposed procedures contradict oncological principles, especially with respect to pelvic lymphadenectomy. Therefore, prior knowledge of pelvic lymph node involvement is an important factor in choosing the operative technique, i.e., radical or conservative resection. Introduction of ultrasound, computerized tomography, and magnetic resonance have made preoperative study of the area possible. Nevertheless, these resources offer information of an anatomical nature only. Lymphoscintigraphy enables the morphological and functional evaluation of the pelvic area and contributes toward complementing the data obtained with the other imaging techniques. The objective of this prospective study is twofold: to standardize the lymphoscintigraphy technique and to use it to differentiate patients with rectal cancer from those with other coloproctologic diseases. CASUISTIC AND METHODS: Sixty patients with various coloproctologic diseases were studied prospectively. Ages ranged from 21 to 96 years (average, 51 and median, 55 years). Twenty-six patients were male and 34 were female. Thirty patients had carcinoma of the distal rectum as diagnosed by proctologic and anatomic-pathologic examinations, 20 patients had hemorrhoids, 5 had chagasic megacolon, 2 had diverticular disease, 2 had neoplasm of the right colon, and 1 had ulcerative colitis as diagnosed by proctologic exam and/or enema. The lymphoscintigraphy method consisted of injecting 0.25 mL of a dextran solution marked with radioactive technetium-99m into the right and left sides of the perianal region and obtaining images with a gamma camera. The results were analyzed statistically with a confidence level of 95% (P < .05) using the following statistical techniques: arithmetic and medium average, Fisher exact test, chi-square test corrected for continuity according to Yates, and distribution tables for the number of patients. RESULTS: In rectal cancer, the tracer progresses unilaterally or is absent; in other patients, the progress of the tracer is bilateral and symmetrical, although its progress may be slow. Statistical tests showed with high significance that the agreement index between the clinical diagnosis and the result of the lymphoscintigraphic exam was 93%. CONCLUSIONS: Lymphoscintigraphy is a standardized, painless, and harmless test that can be performed in all cases; it differentiates patients with rectal cancer from those with other coloproctological diseases.
Lymphoscintigraphy; Rectal cancer; Lymph nodes; Staging of rectal cancer