CASE Patient wants minimally invasive surgery for her fibroids, and no hysterectomy
A 44-year-old G1P1 woman comes to the office to discuss her uterine fibroids, heavy menstrual bleeding, and urinary frequency. Treatment with oral contraceptives has not been effective in reducing the bleeding. She now wants surgical treatment without a hysterectomy (the hysterectomy was recommended by her previous gynecologist). On examination, a 14-week-size irregular uterus is felt. Myomectomy is discussed, and the patient asks if minimally invasive surgery (MIS) is possible. Complete blood cell count testing shows a hemoglobin level of 9.4 g/dL. Pelvic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) shows a 6-cm type 2 posterior fundal fibroid and a 6-cm type 5 posterior lower-uterine-segment fibroid (FIGURE 1). These 2 fibroids have regular contours, and enhancement is not increased with contrast, consistent with benign fibroids.
Determining that laparoscopic myomectomy is a good option
Fibroids may affect quality of life—they may cause heavy menstrual bleeding, pelvic pain or pressure, or urinary frequency or incontinence. For many women who want large or numerous fibroids removed but the uterus preserved, abdominal myomectomy is required. Smaller and less numerous fibroids usually can be managed laparoscopically or with robotic assistance.
A systematic review of 6 randomized, controlled trials comparing laparoscopic and open myomectomy in 576 patients found that, although laparoscopic myomectomy was associated with longer operative time (approximately 13 minutes), it was also linked to less operative blood loss, fewer overall complications, reduced postoperative pain, and faster recovery.1 However, wide application of the laparoscopic approach may be limited by the size and number of fibroids that can be reasonably removed and by the surgical skill needed for fibroid excision and laparoscopic suturing.
Four imaging modalities can be used for fibroids: transvaginal sonography (TVS), saline-infusion sonography (SIS), hysteroscopy, and MRI. TVS is the most readily available and least costly modality used to differentiate fibroids from other pelvic pathology; SIS provides contrast for the endometrial cavity and better defines submucous fibroids; and hysteroscopy detects visually apparent distortion of the cavity. MRI, however, provides the most complete evaluation of size, position, and number of fibroids.
A study comparing TVS, SIS, hysteroscopy, and MRI found that number and position of fibroids were best identified with MRI.2 In addition, with MRI, the proximity of the fibroids and uterus to the bladder, rectum, and iliac bones can be evaluated. As tactility in laparoscopic and robot-assisted surgery is very limited, surgeons who use MRI to accurately assess fibroids preoperatively may be able to avoid missing them during the procedure.3 MRI also can be used reliably to diagnose adenomyosis and may be able to help identify uterine sarcoma.
Tip. For all women considering laparoscopic or robot-assisted myomectomy, I order pelvic MRI with and without contrast. Having the radiologist limit the number of MRI sequences may reduce the cost and make it comparable to that of other imaging modalities. I request T2-weighted MRI scans in the coronal, sagittal, and axial planes; in addition, to determine distortion of the uterine cavity by submucous fibroids, I request scans in the planes parallel with and perpendicular to the uterine axis. One gadolinium-enhanced T1-weighted MRI scan is needed to evaluate perfusion.
Although radiologists are experts in image interpretation, they are unfamiliar with the treatments and surgical issues that gynecologists must consider. Reading MRI scans for fibroids is straightforward, and gynecologists who regularly treat women with fibroids should consider viewing images with a radiologist until they become proficient.
Surgical management of broad ligament fibroids
Surgeons who have the experience and skill and know the size, number, and position of fibroids are able to select the appropriate candidates for laparoscopic myomectomy. Authors of a study of 2,050 laparoscopic myomectomies found that fibroids larger than 5 cm, removal of more than 3 fibroids, and broad ligament fibroids were more likely to be associated with major complications, including visceral injury, conversion to laparotomy, and bleeding requiring blood transfusion.4
In laparoscopic myomectomy, uterus reconstruction requires laparoscopic suturing. Although robot-assisted myomectomy may make laparoscopic suturing easier, the added cost, longer operative time, and unimproved outcomes must be considered too.