Background: Surgical strategy for acute colorectal obstruction due to colorectal cancer remains controversial. One-, two- and three-stage surgical procedures, and preoperative stenting of the stenosis as a bridge to surgery, are available. Methods: A systematic review was conducted, searching MEDLINE, EMBASE and CENTRAL, as well as bibliographies of included studies, to identify randomized and non-randomized controlled trials that compared two or more surgical procedures in acute colonic obstruction. Results: After screening 1748 titles and abstracts, 209 were selected for full text assessment; 29 studies with 2286 patients were finally included. In general, the quality of the studies was limited, with only three randomized trials. Eight non-randomized studies comparing one-stage with two- or three-stage surgery consistently favoured a one-stage procedure in terms of mortality (relative risk difference from -2 to - 27 per cent), but reported morbidity rates were not different. Trials of different one-stage procedures (segmental and total/subtotal colectomy) showed none to be clearly superior. Stenting procedures were superior to non-stenting treatments. Conclusion: One-stage surgery appears to be superior to two- or three-stage procedures. Stenting is a promising option, allowing the resection to be carried out in an elective setting.
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