Anastomotic leak (AL) is a major complication in colorectal cancer surgery and consists of the leakage of intestinal content through a poorly healed colonic wound. Colorectal cancer recurrence after surgery is a major determinant of survival. We hypothesize that AL may allow cancer cells to escape the gut and lead to cancer recurrence and that improving anastomotic healing may prevent local implantation and metastatic dissemination of cancer cells.

Experimental Design:

We investigated the association between AL and postoperative outcomes in patients with colorectal cancer. Using mouse models of poor anastomotic healing, we assessed the processes of local implantation and dissemination of cancer cells. The effect of dietary supplementation with inulin and 5-aminosalicylate (5-ASA), which activate PPAR-γ in the gut, on local anastomotic tumors was assessed in mice undergoing colonic surgery. Inulin and 5-ASA were also assessed in a mouse model of liver metastasis.


Patients experiencing AL displayed lower overall and oncologic survival than non-AL patients. Poor anastomotic healing in mice led to larger anastomotic and peritoneal tumors. The microbiota of patients with AL displays a lower capacity to activate the antineoplastic PPAR-γ in the gut. Modulation of gut microbiota using dietary inulin and 5-ASA reinforced the gut barrier and prevented anastomotic tumors and metastatic spread in mice.


Our findings reinforce the hypothesis that preventing AL is paramount to improving oncologic outcomes after colorectal cancer surgery. Furthermore, they pave the way toward dietary targeting of PPAR-γ as a novel way to enhance healing and diminish cancer recurrence.

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