A fistula is an abnormal opening or channel that joins two or more structures or spaces within the body. For example, a fistula can develop between two organs of the body, such as the bowel and the bladder, or the bowel and the skin.
A cancer fistula is rare. It develops because of cancer or its treatment. If it is caused by cancer treatment, it‘s often a late side-effect and may take many months or years to develop. Some conditions or treatments that are not related to cancer can also cause a fistula.
Fistulas can occur almost anywhere in the body, although they are more common in the pelvic area. A fistula is usually named after the parts of the body involved.
A fistula can develop between:
- one of the tubes (ureter) leading from the kidney to the bladder and the vagina (called a uretero-vaginal fistula)
- a ureter and the bowel (called a uretero-colic fistula)
- the bladder and the vagina (called a vesico-vaginal fistula)
- the bowel and the skin, usually the abdominal wall (called an enterocutaneous fistula)
- the bowel and the vagina (called a recto-vaginal fistula)
- the bowel and the bladder (called an entero-vesical fistula).
Less commonly, fistulas can develop between:
- the windpipe (trachea) and the gullet (oesophagus) (called a tracheo-oesophageal fistula)
- the gullet and the lungs, the main airways to the lungs (bronchus), or the windpipe (called a broncho-oesophageal fistula)
- the stomach and the bowel (called a gastro-colic fistula).