Severe acute gastrointestinal graft-vs-host disease: An emerging surgical dilemma in contemporary cancer care

Jennifer L. Irani, Corey S. Cutler, Edward E. Whang, Thomas E. Clancy, Sara Russell, Richard S. Swanson, Stanley W. Ashley, Michael J. Zinner, Chandrajit P. Raut

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Objective: To determine the natural history of and guidelines for the surgical management of severe acute gastrointestinal (GI) graft-vs-host disease (GVHD) after allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). Design: Case series from a prospective database. Setting: Tertiary care referral center/National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. Patients: A total of 63 of 2065 patients (3%) undergoing HSCT for hematologic malignancies from February 1997 to March 2005 diagnosed clinically with severe (stage 3 or 4) acute GI GVHD. Main Outcome Measure: Percutaneous or surgical intervention. Perforation, obstruction, ischemia, hemorrhage, and abscess were considered surgically correctable problems. Results: Severe acute GI GVHD was diagnosed in 63 patients (median age at HSCT, 47.6 years) at a median of 23 days after HSCT. Clinical diagnosis was confirmed histologically in 84% of patients. On computed tomography and/or magnetic resonance images, 64% had bowel wall thickening, 20% had a normal-appearing bowel, and 16% had nonspecific findings; none had evidence of perforation, obstruction, or abscess. All were initially treated with immunosuppression. Only 1 patient (1.6%) required intervention, undergoing a nontherapeutic laparotomy for worsening abdominal pain. A total of 83% of patients have died (median time to death from HSCT, 119 days; from GI GVHD diagnosis, 85 days). None who underwent an autopsy died of a surgically correctable cause. Conclusions: This series represents a large single-center experience with GI GVHD reviewed from a surgical perspective. Operative intervention was rarely required. Therefore, mature surgical judgment is necessary to confirm the absence of surgically reversible problems, thus avoiding unnecessary operations in this challenging patient population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1041-1045
Number of pages5
JournalArchives of surgery
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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