WASHINGTON – The era of powerful biologics has led to unforeseen surgical outcomes in patients with ulcerative colitis.
Patients undergoing surgery for ulcerative colitis now are 38% more likely to die in the hospital than they were 15 years ago, before infliximab and other biologics were adopted as medical therapy for the disease. A database review covering 18 years found that other surgical outcomes are worse, too, Jonathan Abelson, MD, said at the annual clinical congress of the American College of Surgeons.
“These very powerful agents could be completely eliminating the need for surgery in patients with mild disease, leaving surgery for those who have very advanced disease and didn’t respond well to medical therapy,” said Dr. Abelson, a clinical research fellow at New York–Presbyterian Hospital, N.Y. “We are operating now only on patients with very severe disease, not the wider range of patients we had 15 years ago, when there weren’t as effective medical options.”
He and his colleagues used the New York Statewide Planning and Research Cooperative System (SPARCS) database to identify 7,070 patients who had undergone bowel resection for ulcerative colitis during two epochs: prebiologics (1995-2005) and postbiologics (2006-2013). The cohorts were about evenly split in numbers.
There were some statistically significant differences in baseline characteristics. Patients in epoch 2 were about a year older (51 vs. 50 years). Significantly more of them had at least two major comorbidities (28% vs. 18%). Minimally invasive surgery was significantly more common in epoch 2 (28% vs. 3%).
Significantly more surgeries in epoch 2 were staged into three or more procedures (14% vs. 9%). This finding probably reflects the level of disease severity in those presenting for surgery or the fact that they underwent surgery after recently receiving biologics, Dr. Abelson said.
“One of the limits of this study is that we don’t know exactly the reasons for these one-, two-, or three-stage surgeries. The theory is that patients who were more ill at presentation are more likely to have a multistaged surgery. Another reason could be that if they are on these powerful immunosuppressive regimens, the surgeon might be concerned about not healing well from a definitive one- or two-stage surgery.”
He then conducted a multivariate analysis that controlled for baseline factors, including a variety of individual comorbid conditions. In this analysis, patients in epoch 2 were 38% more likely to die in the hospital and 51% more likely to experience a major postoperative event, like shock, pulmonary embolism, stroke, or heart attack. The chance of a surgical complication was increased by 39%, and these patients were 25% more likely to need a transfusion during surgery than those from epoch 1.
The poorer outcomes held for an at least an entire year after surgery, Dr. Abelson said. At 1 year, patients in epoch 2 were 36% more likely to have a readmission than those in epoch 1. Major events and procedural complications were both 46% more likely. Patients were also 36% more likely to require an additional procedure.
“These are not the outcomes we want to see, especially in this era when our surgical techniques have improved so much,” Dr. Abelson said. “If what this represents, though, is that we are now operating on a higher-risk population, we can’t just say, ‘Well, that’s how it’s going to be.’ We need to figure out how to minimize morbidity and mortality in this high-risk patient population.”
One goal, he suggested, would be to assess response to a biologic regimen earlier in the hopes of determining who will respond well, and moving ahead with surgery in those who don’t.
This is a tough sell for patients, he said.
“There is a big fear of this surgery. It usually requires a temporary ileostomy and a stoma bag, and patients are terrified of that. There have been a few studies demonstrating that earlier referral to surgery improves quality of life; living with advanced ulcerative colitis can be extremely difficult and patients often feel a lot better after we remove their diseased colon. But getting there is a challenge.”
Dr. Abelson had no financial disclosures.