The proposed use of radiofrequency ablation for the treatment of fistula-in-ano.
Keogh, Kenneth M
Smart, Neil J.
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Fistula in ano is a very common presentation to colorectal clinic. Embarrassment due to the symptoms makes accurate estimations of incidence difficult. It is estimated that up to 40% of peri-anal abscess will be accompanied by or preceded by a fistula. Fistulae can be classified into simple fistulae that involve no or minimal sphincter muscle and complex, which involve significant amounts of the anal sphincter muscle, possibly with multiple tracts. For complex fistulae a seton suture is usually placed through the tract and out through the anus to form a loop allowing pockets of sepsis to drain internally and externally and a mature tract of fibrous tissue to develop. Following this period definitive fistula treatment is considered. This can involve a number of procedures that have tremendously varied success rates in the literature. The first stage of surgical treatment is often a core fistulectomy, which entails surgical removal of the tract. This may be followed by insertion of fibrin glue, a collagen plug or formation of a rotation skin flap from surrounding tissue in order to close the resultant tissue defect. All current treatments have a significant failure rate. If this wound breaks down the surgery can leave a large painful peri-anal wound that can lead to ongoing fistulation. Should this occur resiting of the seton will be required with the patient only getting back to square one after months of healing around the seton. In addition removing cores of fibrous tissue passing through the sphincter can threaten the sphincter function resulting in impaired continence. Having seen radiofrequency ablation used to close varicose veins the authors propose that one could use similar techniques to close a fibrous tract matured with a seton in order to close a fistula. The authors propose that a short length radiofrequency catheter could be used to treat fistula in ano. This would in theory be less painful with less tissue destruction. In addition there would be no necessity for extensive incisions. As the energy penetration can be controlled the procedure will be safe even if it fails, without causing a large wound or tissue necrosis. All other treatment options will still be available.