PURPOSE: Tumor necrosis factor antagonist therapy in the form of infliximab has been shown to promote significant healing in fistulizing Crohn's disease and therefore is often considered as a possible alternative to surgery. Our aim was to evaluate the role of infliximab in supplanting surgery for fistulizing Crohn's disease. METHODS: We performed a retrospective chart review of all adult patients who received infliximab for fistulizing Crohn's disease at one institution between September 1998 and October 2000. RESULTS: Twenty-six patients (14 male; mean age, 38 years; range, 19-80 years) received a mean of three (range, one to six) doses of infliximab (5 mg/kg) with the intent to cure fistulizing Crohn's disease. Nine patients (35 percent) had perianal, 6 (23 percent) enterocutaneous, 3 (12 percent) rectovaginal, 4 (15 percent) peristomal, and 4 (15 percent) intra-abdominal fistulas. Nineteen (73 percent) of the patients had had prior surgery for Crohn's disease. Six patients (23 percent) had a complete response to infliximab with fistula closure, 12 (46 percent) had a partial response, and 8 (31 percent) had no response to infliximab. Fourteen (54 percent) patients still required surgery for their fistulizing Crohn's disease after infliximab therapy (10 bowel resections, 4 perianal procedures), whereas half (6/12) of the patients treated with infliximab who still had open fistulas after treatment declined surgical intervention. Five of six patients with fistula closure on infliximab had perianal or rectovaginal fistulas. None of the patients with either enterocutaneous or peristomal fistulas were healed with infliximab, CONCLUSIONS: Although it was associated with a 61 percent complete or partial response rate, infliximab therapy did not supplant the need for surgical intervention in the majority of our patients with fistulizing Crohn's disease. Seventy-three percent of the patients either required surgery or still had open fistulas after infliximab therapy. Infliximab was much more effective in treating perianal disease than abdominal enterocutaneous disease.
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