what is anterior resection?
Anterior resection is a surgical procedure that has become increasingly common in the treatment of various colorectal disorders. This article delves into the intricacies of anterior resection, exploring its indications, techniques, benefits, and potential risks.

Understanding Colorectal Disorders

Colorectal disorders encompass a wide range of medical conditions that affect the colon and rectum. These disorders can be both benign and malignant, with conditions like colorectal cancer, diverticulitis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) being prominent examples. Anterior resection primarily addresses issues in the lower part of the colon and upper part of the rectum.

Indications for Anterior Resection

Before considering anterior resection, it’s crucial to understand when this surgical procedure is recommended:

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is a malignant growth that develops in the colon or rectum, two vital components of the digestive system. When diagnosed with colorectal cancer, the choice of treatment depends on various factors, including the stage of cancer, the tumor’s location, and the patient’s overall health. In cases where the tumor is situated in the upper or middle rectum, anterior resection emerges as a valuable surgical solution. Here’s a closer look at how this procedure plays a crucial role in treating colorectal cancer:

  1. Preserving Anal Sphincter: One of the key goals of anterior resection when treating colorectal cancer in the upper or middle rectum is to preserve the anal sphincter. The anal sphincter is a muscular structure that controls bowel movements. By sparing it during surgery, patients can maintain better control over their bowel function after the procedure.
  2. Tumor Removal: The primary objective of anterior resection in colorectal cancer treatment is the complete removal of the cancerous portion of the colon or rectum. This is done to eliminate the source of cancer and prevent its spread to nearby tissues or organs.
  3. Functional Outcome: By removing the affected part of the colon and skillfully reconnecting the healthy sections (anastomosis), anterior resection aims to restore normal bowel function as much as possible. This contributes significantly to the patient’s post-surgery quality of life.
  4. Minimizing Complications: Anterior resection is designed to minimize the risk of complications associated with colorectal cancer, such as bowel obstruction or perforation. It helps in preventing the disease from advancing to a more critical stage.
  5. Comprehensive Treatment: In many cases, anterior resection is part of a comprehensive treatment plan that may also include chemotherapy and radiation therapy. This multi-pronged approach enhances the chances of successful cancer management.
  6. Tailored Approach: The decision to perform anterior resection for colorectal cancer is individualized and based on the patient’s specific circumstances. Factors like the stage of cancer, the patient’s overall health, and their preferences are considered when determining the most appropriate treatment strategy.
  7. Postoperative Care: After anterior resection, patients receive postoperative care and support to aid in their recovery. This may include dietary adjustments and monitoring for any potential complications.


Photo Composite by Amelia Manley for Verywell Health; Getty Images

Diverticulitis is a condition characterized by inflamed or infected pouches, known as diverticula, that can form in the walls of the colon. When diverticulitis becomes recurrent and severe, it can significantly impact a patient’s quality of life. In such cases, medical management alone may not suffice. This is where anterior resection comes into play.

Anterior resection is a surgical procedure that involves the removal of the affected portion of the colon. When applied to diverticulitis, it aims to address the root cause of recurrent flare-ups. Here’s how it helps:

  1. Preventing Future Episodes: By removing the segment of the colon with diverticula, anterior resection eliminates the source of recurrent inflammation. This significantly reduces the likelihood of future episodes of diverticulitis.
  2. Reducing Complications: Severe diverticulitis can lead to complications such as abscesses, fistulas, or bowel obstructions. Anterior resection can mitigate these risks by eliminating the problematic segment of the colon.
  3. Improving Quality of Life: Patients who undergo anterior resection often experience an improved quality of life. With the removal of the inflamed colon segment, symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, and irregular bowel movements can be alleviated.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) encompasses conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, both of which involve chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. While many individuals with IBD can manage their symptoms with medication and lifestyle changes, there are cases where conservative treatments prove ineffective.

In severe cases of IBD, where the inflammation is localized to specific sections of the colon, anterior resection may become a necessary intervention. Here’s how it is applied:

  1. Removing Inflamed Sections: Anterior resection targets the affected parts of the colon afflicted by IBD. By surgically removing these inflamed sections, the procedure aims to control the disease’s progression and alleviate debilitating symptoms.
  2. Disease Management: Anterior resection can be a crucial part of managing severe IBD. While it may not cure the condition, it can provide substantial relief, reduce the need for medications with potential side effects, and prevent complications such as strictures or perforations.
  3. Improving Quality of Life: For individuals struggling with the debilitating symptoms of IBD, anterior resection can offer an improved quality of life. It may help alleviate symptoms like persistent diarrhea, abdominal pain, and rectal bleeding.

The Anterior Resection Procedure

Preoperative Preparation

Before anterior resection, thorough preoperative preparation is essential to ensure the patient’s safety and the success of the surgery. This preparation typically involves:

  • Thorough Evaluation: Patients undergo a comprehensive evaluation, which includes a medical history assessment, physical examination, and various diagnostic tests. Imaging studies, such as CT scans or MRI, are conducted to precisely locate the affected area within the colon.
  • Blood Tests: Blood tests are performed to assess the patient’s overall health, check for any underlying medical conditions, and ensure they are fit for surgery.
  • Bowel Preparation: Bowel preparation is a critical step to ensure that the colon is clean and free from fecal matter. This is usually achieved through dietary restrictions and the use of laxatives or enemas. A clean colon provides the surgeon with a clear view and reduces the risk of infection during the procedure.

Incision and Access

Anterior resection can be carried out using two primary approaches: open surgery or minimally invasive techniques, such as laparoscopy. The choice of approach depends on various factors, including the patient’s condition and the surgeon’s expertise.

  • Open Surgery: In open surgery, the surgeon makes a traditional abdominal incision, typically in the lower abdomen. This incision provides direct access to the affected area of the colon. Open surgery may be necessary in complex cases or when laparoscopic methods are not suitable.
  • Laparoscopy: Laparoscopic anterior resection is a minimally invasive technique that involves making several small incisions in the abdominal wall. The surgeon inserts a laparoscope (a thin, flexible tube with a camera) and specialized instruments through these small incisions to access and operate on the colon. Laparoscopy often results in shorter recovery times and less scarring compared to open surgery.

Resection and Anastomosis

Once access to the affected area is established, the surgeon proceeds with the resection and anastomosis:

  • Resection: The damaged or diseased portion of the colon is carefully removed. This removal is precise, ensuring that all cancerous tissue or the affected segment is completely excised.
  • Anastomosis: After the resection, the healthy ends of the colon are meticulously rejoined or reconnected. This surgical procedure is known as anastomosis. The precise alignment of the healthy bowel is critical to maintaining normal bowel function post-surgery. Proper anastomosis enables the flow of stool through the colon without interruption.

Stoma Creation (if necessary)

In some cases, a stoma may be necessary to divert stool away from the anastomosis site. A stoma is a surgically created opening in the abdominal wall through which stool can exit the body. The decision to create a stoma, whether temporary or permanent, depends on factors such as the overall health of the colon, the extent of the resection, and the patient’s individual needs.

  • Temporary Stoma: A temporary stoma, either colostomy or ileostomy, may be created to allow the anastomosis site to heal properly. This diversion of stool reduces stress on the newly joined sections of the colon, promoting healing. It can be closed in a subsequent surgery when the surgeon determines that it’s no longer necessary.
  • Permanent Stoma: In some cases, when the affected portion of the colon is extensive or severely damaged, a permanent stoma may be required for long-term management of bowel function. This decision is carefully considered by the surgical team, and the patient is educated on stoma care and management.

Benefits of Anterior Resection

Anterior resection offers several advantages:

Improved Quality of Life:

  • Preservation of the Anal Sphincter: One of the key benefits of anterior resection is its focus on preserving the anal sphincter. The anal sphincter is a group of muscles that control bowel movements. By retaining this essential function, patients experience improved control over their bowel movements post-surgery.
  • Reduction of Fecal Incontinence: Preservation of the anal sphincter greatly reduces the risk of fecal incontinence, which can be a distressing and socially challenging condition. Patients can lead a more normal life without the fear of unexpected bowel movements.

Effective Treatment:

  • Treatment for Colorectal Disorders: Anterior resection is a highly effective treatment option for various colorectal disorders. It is particularly notable in the management of two common conditions: colorectal cancer and diverticulitis.
  • Colorectal Cancer: When colorectal cancer is located in the upper or middle rectum, anterior resection is often chosen as it not only removes the cancerous portion but also preserves bowel function, leading to a better quality of life for the patient.
  • Diverticulitis: Patients with recurrent and severe diverticulitis can benefit from anterior resection, which removes the affected part of the colon and reduces the risk of future episodes and complications.

Minimally Invasive Options:

  • Laparoscopic Techniques: Advancements in surgical techniques have introduced minimally invasive options for anterior resection. Laparoscopy, for instance, involves making small incisions and using specialized instruments with a camera for precise surgical procedures.
  • Shorter Hospital Stays: Minimally invasive procedures often result in shorter hospital stays compared to traditional open surgeries. Patients can return home sooner, reducing healthcare costs and improving overall patient satisfaction.
  • Faster Recovery Times: The minimally invasive approach also leads to faster recovery times. Patients experience less pain and scarring, allowing them to resume their daily activities more quickly.
  • Reduced Complications: Minimally invasive techniques are associated with fewer postoperative complications, such as infections and wound healing issues. This contributes to a smoother recovery process.

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Risks and Complications

While anterior resection has many benefits, it also carries some risks:

Anterior resection is a surgical procedure that offers numerous benefits, but like any surgery, it comes with inherent risks and potential complications. It’s crucial for patients and healthcare providers to be aware of these risks to ensure proper management and a safe recovery. Some of the key risks and complications include:


  • Incision Site Infection: As with any surgical procedure, there is a risk of infection at the incision site. This risk can be minimized through proper sterile techniques during surgery and vigilant wound care postoperatively. Infections can typically be treated with antibiotics.
  • Intra-abdominal Infection: In rare cases, infection can occur within the abdominal cavity, which can be more serious. Signs of intra-abdominal infection may include fever, abdominal pain, and increased white blood cell count. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are crucial to prevent complications.

Anastomotic Leakage:

  • Definition: Anastomotic leakage refers to the escape of bodily fluids, including intestinal contents, from the surgical connection (anastomosis) between the healthy ends of the colon. This can occur due to a breakdown in the integrity of the anastomosis.
  • Consequences: Anastomotic leakage is a serious complication that can lead to peritonitis (inflammation of the abdominal lining), abscess formation, and sepsis (a systemic infection). It may require additional surgical interventions to address.
  • Risk Mitigation: Surgeons take meticulous care to create a secure anastomosis, and patients are closely monitored after surgery to detect early signs of leakage. Timely intervention is crucial in managing this complication.

Bowel Obstruction:

  • Postoperative Adhesions: After anterior resection, it’s possible for adhesions to form within the abdominal cavity. Adhesions are fibrous bands of tissue that can bind together different structures in the abdomen, potentially leading to bowel obstructions.
  • Symptoms: Bowel obstructions can cause symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting, and an inability to pass gas or have bowel movements.
  • Treatment: If a bowel obstruction occurs, it may require medical or surgical intervention, such as the placement of a nasogastric tube to decompress the bowel or surgery to release the adhesions.

Other Potential Complications:

  • Hemorrhage (Bleeding): While relatively uncommon, there is a risk of bleeding during or after anterior resection. Surgical techniques, including the use of cautery or sutures, are employed to minimize this risk.
  • Urinary Complications: Some patients may experience urinary issues, such as difficulty urinating, after surgery. These are typically temporary and resolve with time.
  • Adverse Reactions to Anesthesia: As with any surgical procedure, there is a risk of adverse reactions to anesthesia, which can include nausea, vomiting, or allergic reactions. Anesthesia providers carefully monitor patients during surgery to manage these risks.
  • Long-Term Effects: Long-term complications, such as changes in bowel habits or function, are possible but not universal. Patients should communicate any ongoing concerns with their healthcare providers.


Anterior resection is a valuable surgical procedure for treating various colorectal disorders, offering improved quality of life and effective treatment options. While it carries some risks, the benefits often outweigh them, especially when performed by skilled surgeons. If you or a loved one is facing a colorectal disorder, consult with a healthcare professional to explore the suitability of anterior resection as a treatment option.


  • What is Anterior Resection, and when is it performed?

Anterior resection is a surgical procedure used to treat conditions affecting the rectum, such as rectal cancer, severe ulcerative colitis, or complicated diverticulitis. It involves the removal of a portion of the rectum while preserving the rest of the colon.

  • How is Anterior Resection performed?

During the procedure, the surgeon makes an incision in the abdomen, accesses the affected area of the rectum, and removes the diseased portion. The remaining healthy colon is then reconnected to the remaining rectum or anus, restoring normal bowel function. In some cases, a temporary or permanent colostomy may be necessary.

  • What are the potential complications of Anterior Resection?

While anterior resection is generally safe, there are risks, including infection, bleeding, damage to nearby structures, and bowel function changes. Temporary or permanent stoma formation (colostomy) can also be a possibility.

  • What is the recovery process like after Anterior Resection?

Recovery varies depending on the individual and the specific condition. Generally, patients may stay in the hospital for several days and gradually resume eating, walking, and other activities. Full recovery can take several weeks to months.

  • Will I need a colostomy bag after Anterior Resection?

The need for a colostomy bag depends on the extent of the surgery and the specific condition being treated. In some cases, a temporary colostomy may be created to allow the surgical site to heal, but it can often be reversed in a subsequent procedure. Your surgeon will discuss this with you before the surgery.

  • Is anterior resection a cure for colorectal cancer?

No, anterior resection is not a cure for colorectal cancer on its own. It is typically part of a comprehensive treatment plan that may include chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

  • How long does it take to recover from anterior resection surgery?

Recovery time varies from person to person but typically ranges from a few weeks to a few months. Minimally invasive procedures often result in shorter recovery times.

  • Are there dietary restrictions after anterior resection?

In the immediate postoperative period, there may be dietary restrictions, but these are usually temporary. Your healthcare provider will provide guidance on your specific dietary needs.

  • Can anterior resection be performed on elderly patients?

Yes, anterior resection can be performed on elderly patients, but the decision should be made on a case-by-case basis after considering the patient’s overall health and medical history.

  • What is the success rate of anterior resection for diverticulitis?

The success rate of anterior resection for diverticulitis is generally high, with a low risk of recurrence when the affected part of the colon is removed. However, individual outcomes may vary.