Chewing gum after surgery for colon cancer may not help kick
the intestines back into gear - but it also probably won't hurt, a new study
The surgery, which involves removing part of the colon,
typically keeps patients in the hospital for a week or more while doctors wait
for the bowel to start working and for people to be able to eat normally again.
Past studies have hinted that gum might help cut that
recovery time if the body responds to chewing by preparing the gut to receive
food, researchers said.
Although the new
findings challenge that theory, one colorectal surgeon thinks gum is still
worth a go.
"It's quite reasonable to try sugar-free gum to help
stimulate gastrointestinal recovery after major abdominal surgery, as there
appears to be no downside, and it's cheap, unlike many other medications,"
said Dr Conor Delaney, from University Hospitals Case Medical Center in
Delaney, who wasn't involved in the new research, told
Reuters Health that he and his own team have combined less-invasive surgery
with a set recovery plan to cut hospital stays to two and a half days after so-called
colorectal resection, on average. Their plan includes advising patients to chew
gum after surgery.
How the study was
For the new study, Patrick Lim and colleagues from the
University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia, randomly assigned people
having either open or less-invasive colon surgery to chew gum four times a day
after surgery or not to chew gum.
Their study included 157 patients treated at one of two
hospitals between 2008 and 2011.What the research team was looking for was how
quickly patients regained their bowel function after surgery - measured by when
they started producing gas.
People who didn't chew gum said it took an average of 51
hours - just over two days - for their intestines to start gearing up again,
compared to 43 hours among gum chewers. However statistically, that difference
could have been due to chance, according to Lim's team.
Delaney said it's possible the new study simply didn't
include enough patients to tease out a clear difference between the groups.
"There's a lot of data suggesting that it's probably
about a 20-hour improvement" that comes with gum chewing, he added.
"The true result may be that chewing gum still results
in a real, but less dramatic improvement, in gastrointestinal function"
when combined with other recovery techniques, the researchers wrote in the
Annals of Surgery.
Because there weren't any side effects tied to gum chewing, Lim and his colleagues said the strategy could still have potential among some patients recovering from colon surgery - but more research is needed to determine which ones are likely to benefit.