The effect of preoperative irradiation on the healing of low colorectal anastomoses was studied experimentally. In 12 dogs in whom preoperative irradiation of 4,000 rads was given before low colorectal stapled anastomosis was performed, anastomotic leakage occurred in 66 percent. More than half of the anastomotic leaks were associated with either severe sepsis or death. In a matched group of control animals that underwent stapled anastomoses without irradiation, no anastomotic complications occurred. The clinical implications of this study are that stapled anastomoses in irradiated colon are at serious risk of anastomotic dehiscence and, therefore, should be protected with a proximal colostomy.