AIM: To systematically review the literature on epidemiology, disease burden, and treatment outcomes for Crohn's disease (CD) patients with complex perianal fistulas.
METHODS: PubMed, Embase, and Cochrane were searched for relevant articles (published 2000-November 2016) and congress abstracts (published 2011-November 2016).
RESULTS: Of 535 records reviewed, 62 relevant sources were identified (mostly small observational studies). The cumulative incidence of complex perianal fistulas in CD from two referral-centre studies was 12%-14% (follow-up time, 12 years in one study; not reported in the second study). Complex perianal fistulas result in greatly diminished quality of life; up to 59% of patients are at risk of faecal incontinence. Treatments include combinations of medical and surgical interventions and expanded allogeneic adipose-derived stem cells. High proportions of patients experience lack of or inadequate response to treatment (failure and relapse rates, respectively: medical, 12%-73% and 0%-41%; surgical: 0%-100% and 11%-20%; combined medical/surgical: 0%-80% and 0%-50%; stem cells: 29%-47% and not reported). Few studies (1 of infliximab; 3 of surgical interventions) have been conducted in treatment-refractory patients, a population with high unmet needs. Limited data exist on the clinical value of anti-tumour necrosis factor-α dose escalation in patients with complex perianal fistulas in CD.
CONCLUSION: Complex perianal fistulas in CD pose substantial clinical and humanistic burden. There is a need for effective treatments, especially for patients refractory to anti-tumour necrosis factor-α agents, as evidenced by high failure and relapse rates.