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.
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