For a select group of patients proctectomy with intersphincteric resection (ISR) for low rectal cancer may be a viable alternative to abdominoperineal resection, with good oncological outcomes while preserving sphincter function. The purpose of this systematic review was to evaluate the current evidence regarding oncological outcomes, morbidity and mortality, and functional outcomes after ISR for low rectal cancer.


A systematic review of the literature was undertaken to evaluate evidence regarding oncological outcomes, morbidity and mortality after ISR for low rectal cancer. Three major databases (PubMed, MEDLINE and the Cochrane Library) were searched. The review included all original articles reporting outcomes after ISR, published in English, from January 1950 to March 2011.


Eighty-four studies were identified. After applying inclusion and exclusion criteria, 14 studies involving 1289 patients were included (mean age 59·5 years, 67·0 per cent men). R0 resection was achieved by ISR in 97·0 per cent. The operative mortality rate was 0·8 per cent and the cumulative morbidity rate 25·8 per cent. Median follow-up was 56 (range 1–227) months. The mean local recurrence rate was 6·7 (range 0–23) per cent. Mean 5-year overall and disease-free survival rates were 86·3 and 78·6 per cent respectively. Functional outcome was reported in eight studies; among these, the mean number of bowel motions in a 24-h period was 2·7.


Oncological outcomes after ISR for low rectal cancer are acceptable, with diverse, often imperfect functional results. These data will aid the clinician when counselling patients considering an ISR for management of low rectal cancer. Copyright © 2012 British Journal of Surgery Society Ltd. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.