Pneumatosis Intestinalis and Bowel Perforation Associated With Molecular Targeted Therapy: An Emerging Problem and the Role of Radiologists in Its Management Journal Articles uri icon

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  • OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this article is to study the imaging features, management, and outcome of pneumatosis intestinalis and bowel perforation associated with molecular targeted therapy. MATERIALS AND METHODS: In this retrospective study, 48 patients with cancer who developed pneumatosis or intestinal perforation were found by searching a radiology database. Of these patients, 24 patients (13 women and 11 men; mean age, 61 years; range, 39-83 years) receiving molecular targeted therapy without any confounding factors for pneumatosis or perforation were selected. Initial and follow-up CT scans were evaluated by two radiologists; medical records were reviewed to note clinical features, management, and outcome. RESULTS: Seventeen (70.8%) patients were asymptomatic. Colorectal cancer (n = 10) and renal cell carcinoma (n = 5) were the most common malignancies; bevacizumab (n = 14) and sunitinib (n = 6) were the most common associated drugs. Imaging findings included intestinal perforation (20 sites in 18 patients), pneumatosis (n = 10), ascites (n = 8), pneumoperitoneum (n = 7), fistula formation (n = 7), and fluid collections (six collections in five patients). Fifteen (62.5%) patients were treated conservatively, seven (29.2%) underwent surgery, and two (8.3%) underwent percutaneous drainage. Molecular targeted therapy was discontinued in 22 of 24 patients; findings resolved in 19 patients, remained stable in one, and worsened in one. One patient died after surgery. In both instances where the drug was continued, the abnormality worsened. Findings recurred in three of four patients in whom the drug was restarted after initial resolution. CONCLUSION: Radiologists should be aware of intestinal complications associated with molecular targeted therapy, including pneumatosis, bowel perforation, and fistula formation. Most patients can be treated conservatively after discontinuation of molecular targeted therapy. Continuing or restarting molecular targeted therapy can cause worsening or recurrent pneumatosis or perforation.


  • Shinagare, Atul B
  • Howard, Stephanie A
  • Krajewski, Katherine M
  • Zukotynski, Katherine
  • Jagannathan, Jyothi P
  • Ramaiya, Nikhil H

publication date

  • December 2012