Endometriosis is one of the more daunting diagnoses that gynecologists treat. In this roundtable discussion, moderated by OBG Management Board Member Arnold P. Advincula, MD, 2 leading surgeons discuss endometriosis diagnosis as well as medical and surgical management.
Arnold P. Advincula, MD: When a patient presents to your practice for the first time and you suspect endometriosis, what considerations tailor your evaluation, and what does that evaluation involve?
Hye-Chun Hur, MD, MPH: The diagnosis is contingent on a patient’s presenting profile. How symptomatic is she? How old is she? What are her reproductive goals? The gold standard for diagnosis is a histologic diagnosis, which is surgical. Depending on the age profile, however, and how close she is to menopause, the patient may be managed medically. Even women in the young reproductive age group may be managed medically if symptoms are responsive to medical treatment.
Douglas N. Brown, MD: I agree. When a patient presents without a laparoscopy, or a tissue diagnosis, but the symptoms are consistent with likely endometriosis (depending on where she is in her reproductive cycle and what her goals are), I think treating with a first-line therapy—hormonal treatments such as progestin-only oral contraceptive pills—is acceptable. I usually conduct a treatment trial period of 3 to 6 months to see if she obtains any symptom relief.
If that first-line treatment fails, generally you can move to a second-line treatment.
I have a discussion in which I either offer a second-line treatment, such as medroxyprogesterone (Depo-Provera) or leuprolide acetate (Lupron Depot), or get a tissue diagnosis, if possible, by performing laparoscopy. If first-line or even second-line therapy fails, you need to consider doing a diagnostic laparoscopy to confirm or deny the diagnosis.
Dr. Advincula: Are there any points in the evaluation of a patient who visits your practice for the first time where you would immediately offer a surgical approach, as opposed to starting with medical management?
Dr. Hur: A large percentage of my patients undergo surgical evaluation, as surgical diagnosis is the gold standard. If you look at the literature, even among surgeons, the accuracy of visual diagnosis is not great.1,2 I target individuals who are either not responsive to medical treatment or who have never tried medical treatment but are trying to conceive, so they are not medical candidates, or individuals who genuinely want a diagnosis for surgical management—sometimes even before first-line medical treatment.
Dr. Brown: Your examination sometimes also dictates your approach. A patient may never have had a laparoscopy or hormone therapy, but if you find uterosacral ligament nodularity, extreme pain on examination, and suspicious findings on ultrasound or otherwise, a diagnostic laparoscopy may be warranted to confirm the diagnosis.
Dr. Advincula: Let’s jump ahead. You have decided to proceed with laparoscopy and you encounter an endometrioma. What is your management strategy, particularly in a fertility-desiring patient?
Dr. Hur: Even if a woman has not undergone first-line medical treatment, if she is trying to conceive or presents with infertility, it’s a different balancing act for approaching the patient. When a woman presents, either with an ultrasound finding or an intraoperative finding of an endometrioma, I am a strong advocate of treating symptomatic disease, which means complete cyst excision. Good clinical data suggest that reproductive outcomes are improved for spontaneous pregnancy rates when you excise an endometrioma.3-6
Dr. Advincula: What are the risks of excision of an endometrioma cyst that patients need to know about?
Dr. Brown: Current standard of care is cystectomy, stripping the cyst wall away from the ovarian cortex. There is some concern that the stripping process, depending on how long the endometrioma has been present within the ovary, can cause some destruction to the underlying oocytes and perhaps impact that ovary’s ability to produce viable eggs.
Some studies, from France in particular, have investigated different energy sources, such as plasma energy, that make it possible to remove part of the cyst and then use the plasma energy to vaporize the rest of the cyst wall that may be lying on the cortex. Researchers looked at anti-Müllerian hormone levels, and there does seem to be a difference in terms of how you remove the cyst.7-9 This energy source is not available to everyone; it’s similar to laser but does not have as much penetration. Standard of care is still ovarian stripping.
The conversation with the patient—if she is already infertile and this cyst is a problem—would be that it likely needs to be removed. There is a chance that she may need assisted reproduction; she might not be able to get pregnant on her own due either to the presence of the endometrioma or to the surgical process of removing it and stripping.
Dr. Advincula: How soon after surgery can a patient start to pursue trying to get pregnant?
Dr. Hur: I think there is no time restraint outside of recovery. As long as the patient has a routine postoperative course, she can try to conceive, spontaneously or with assisted reproduction. Some data suggest, however, that ovarian reserve is diminished immediately after surgery.10–12 If you look at the spontaneous clinical pregnancy outcomes, they are comparable 3 to 6 months postsurgery.4,12–14
Dr. Brown: I agree. Time is of the essence with a lot of patients, many of whom present after age 35.
Dr. Hur: It’s also important to highlight that there are 2 presentations with endometrioma: the symptomatic patient and the asymptomatic patient. In the asymptomatic patient, her age, reproductive goals, and the bilaterality (whether it is present on both sides or on one side) of the endometrioma are important in deciding on a patient-centered surgical plan. For someone with a smaller cyst, unilateral presentation, and maybe older age at presentation, it may or may not impact assisted reproductive outcomes.
If the patient is not symptomatic and she is older with bilateral endometriomas less than 4 cm, some data suggest that patient might be better served in a conservative fashion.6,15–17 Then, once she is done with assisted reproduction, we might be more aggressive surgically by treating the finding that would not resolve spontaneously without surgical management. It is important to highlight that endometriomas do not resolve on their own; they require surgical management.