What is a rectal fistula?
A rectal fistula is an opening that is created between the rectum (anus) and an adjacent structure, such as a gland or the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside of the body). A rectal fistula that is a result of cancer treatment most commonly involves the rectum and urethra. It is a very rare complication.
Symptoms of a rectal fistula include:
- Recurrent abscesses (abscesses that keep coming back).
- Pain and swelling around the anus.
- Pain and/or bleeding with bowel movements.
- Bloody or foul-smelling drainage from around the anus.
A rectal fistula is a medical emergency and requires immediate care. Your provider may look at the area around the anus and if visible, diagnose a fistula. If the fistula is not easily seen, more tests may need to be performed and may include an anoscopy. An anoscopy is a test where your provider uses an instrument to see inside your rectum. An MRI may also be used.
How is a rectal fistula managed?
Rectal fistulas are treated with surgery performed by a colon and rectal specialist. Depending on the extent of the fistula, the procedure may be done on an outpatient basis or you may need to stay in the hospital for a couple of days.
When should I contact my care team?
If you have any of the symptoms of a rectal fistula listed above, you should call your provider right away.
Macmillan Cancer Support. Fistula. Found at: https://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/coping/side-effects-and-symptoms/other-side-effects/fistula.html#46229
Mayo Clinic. Rectovaginal Fistula. 2015. Found at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rectovaginal-fistula/symptoms-causes/syc-20377108