LAS VEGAS – Removing the fallopian tubes at the time of pelvic surgeries as a potential means of reducing ovarian cancer risk appears to be a movement that’s picking up steam in clinical practice.
A recent survey of 234 U.S. gynecologists showed prophylactic bilateral salpingectomy is catching on when performed in conjunction with hysterectomy, but far less so for tubal sterilization, Dr. Austin Findley observed at the annual Minimally Invasive Surgery Week.
A total of 54% of respondents indicated they routinely perform salpingectomy at the time of hysterectomy in an effort to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer as well as to avoid the need for reoperations. However, only 7% of the gynecologic surgeons said they perform salpingectomy for tubal sterilization, even though 58% of respondents stated they believe the procedure is the most effective form of tubal sterilization (J. Minim. Invasive Gynecol. 2013;20:517-21).
“In my experience at various hospitals, I think these numbers are a pretty accurate reflection of what folks are doing,” commented Dr. Findley of Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.
The prophylactic salpingectomy movement is an outgrowth of the tubal hypothesis of ovarian cancer.
“There is now increasing and dramatic evidence to suggest that most ovarian cancers actually originate in the distal fallopian tubes. I think this is a concept most people are unaware of or are just becoming accustomed to. The tubal hypothesis represents a major paradigm shift in the way we think about ovarian cancers. The previous belief that excessive ovulation is a cause of ovarian cancer is no longer regarded as accurate,” he explained at the meeting presented by the Society of Laparoscopic Surgeons and affiliated societies.
Ovarian cancer is the No. 1 cause of mortality from gynecologic malignancy, accounting for more than 14,000 deaths per year, according to National Cancer Institute data. The lifetime risk of the malignancy is 1.3%, with the average age at diagnosis being 63 years.
Only 10%-15% of ovarian cancers occur in women at high risk for the malignancy because they carry a BRCA mutation or other predisposing gene. The vast majority of ovarian cancer deaths are caused by high-grade serous tumors that have been shown to be strongly associated with precursor lesions in the distal fallopian tubes of women at low risk for the malignancy.
There is no proven-effective screening program or risk-reduction method for these low-risk women. However, with 600,000 hysterectomies and 700,000 tubal sterilizations being performed annually in the United States, prophylactic salpingectomy has been advocated as an attractive opportunity to potentially reduce ovarian cancer risk. Other common pelvic surgeries in which it might be used for this purpose include excision of endometriosis and laparoscopy for pelvic pain. It also has recently been shown to be feasible and safe post partum at cesarean or vaginal delivery (Obstet. Gynecol. 2014 [doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000447427.80479.ae]).
But the key word here is “potentially.” It must be emphasized that at present the ovarian cancer prevention benefit of prophylactic salpingectomy remains hypothetical; in theory, the procedure should reduce ovarian cancer risk, but there is not yet persuasive evidence that it actually does, Dr. Findley emphasized at the meeting, presented by the Society of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons and affiliated societies.
In contrast, one well-established ancillary benefit of prophylactic salpingectomy is that it eliminates the need for future reoperation for salpingectomy. This was demonstrated in a large Danish cohort study including close to 10,000 women undergoing hysterectomy and a similar number undergoing sterilization procedures. Among the nearly two-thirds of hysterectomy patients who had both fallopian tubes retained, there was a 2.13-fold increased likelihood of subsequent salpingectomy, compared with nonhysterectomized women.
Similarly, Danish women who underwent a sterilization procedure with retention of the fallopian tubes – typically tubal ligation with clips – were 2.42 times more likely to undergo subsequent salpingectomy, most often because of the development of hydrosalpinx, infection, ectopic pregnancy, or other complications (BMJ Open 2013;3 [doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-002845]).
The most commonly cited potential risk of prophylactic salpingectomy – decreased ovarian function – now appears to be a nonissue. This was demonstrated in a recent retrospective Italian study (Gynecol. Oncol. 2013;129:448-51) as well as in a pilot randomized controlled trial conducted by Dr. Findley and his coworkers (Fertil. Steril. 2013;100:1704-8), which appears to have answered many skeptics’ concerns. Indeed, Dr. Findley’s coinvestigator Dr. Matthew Siedhoff said he has recently been approached by researchers interested in collaborating in a larger confirmatory randomized trial, but all parties eventually agreed it was a no-go.
“It’s a little hard to demonstrate equipoise for a larger randomized controlled trial. We’re beyond that now, given that prophylactic salpingectomy really doesn’t seem to make a difference as far as ovarian function,” according to Dr. Siedhoff, director of the division of advanced laparoscopy and pelvic pain at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.