Optimal surgical management of stage 3 and 4 pelvic organ prolapse

What the evidence and the experts say about the various approaches for prolapse repair



Effective surgical management of advanced pelvic organ prolapse (POP) depends on prolapse location and stage, presence of urinary incontinence, need for hysterectomy, the patient’s desire to maintain sexual function, type of surgery, and the surgeon’s skill and experience, among other factors. For these reasons, POP repair is not a one-size-fits all procedure.

In this article, experts in minimally invasive prolapse repair offer their perspectives on 3 surgical approaches: use of native tissue (Drs. White, Aguilar, and Rogers), abdominal sacrocolpopexy (Drs. Huber and Culligan), and transvaginal mesh (Drs. Lucente and Ton). They evaluate the evidence on these procedures and provide recommendations based on their experience of best practices for achieving surgical success and minimizing adverse events.

Using native tissue for vaginal anatomy repair

Amanda White, MD; Vivian Aguilar, MD; and Rebecca G. Rogers, MD
Dr. Rogers reports that she receives royalties from UpToDate. Drs. White and Aguilar report no financial relationships relevant to this article.

Surgical therapy is the mainstay of treatment for POP, and 20% of US women will undergo prolapse and/or stress incontinence surgery by age 80.1 Prolapse surgery either restores the vaginal anatomy (reconstructive surgery) or obliterates the vaginal canal (obliterative surgery). Vaginal reconstruction can be performed using the patient's native tissue or mesh. Because of concerns associated with mesh use, native tissue repairs continue to be commonly performed.

Unfortunately, not all prolapse surgeries result in prolapse cure, and recurrent prolapse that necessitates repeat operation is not rare, regardless of whether or not mesh is used.2,3 Native tissue repairs are most commonly performed through the vaginal route, the first minimally invasive approach to prolapse surgery. Restoration of the vaginal apex has been identified as critically important in these surgeries. Apical native tissue repairs include reconstructive procedures, such as sacrospinous ligament suspension (SSLS) or uterosacral ligament suspension (USLS), and obliterative procedures, such as colpocleisis.

In this discussion, we present 2 case vignettes that highlight surgical decision making for repair of stage 3 or 4 pelvic organ prolapse utilizing these techniques.

Take-home points
  • Native tissue repair offers a minimally invasive approach to prolapse repair.
  • Sacrospinous and uterosacral ligament suspensions have equivalent success rates.
  • Prophylactic midurethral slings reduce postoperative incontinence at the time of transvaginal native tissue repair.
  • Hysterectomy at the time of colpocleisis should not be performed routinely.

CASE 1 Active woman with prolapse
A 65-year-old woman (G2P2) presents with stage 3 prolapse, with the anterior compartment at +3 and the cervix at the hymen with straining. She is sexually active and desires to retain coital function. A trial of pessary has failed.

What surgical options can be considered for this patient?

Reconstruction procedures for prolapse

This patient presents with a typical configuration of prolapse; the anterior and apical compartments are the most likely to prolapse.4 Importantly, conservative management of her prolapse has failed. While it is not required that women have a trial with pessary prior to undergoing surgery, all women should be offered conservative management of prolapse, according to the American Urogynecologic Society (AUGS) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).4,5

Apical suspension
Since this patient desires to retain coital function, her gynecologist recommends a reconstructive procedure. The combination of apical and anterior vaginal wall prolapse will require an apical suspension procedure (FIGURES 1 and 2). If suspension of the apex does not correct the anterior wall prolapse, the patient also may require anterior compartment reconstruction.

SOURCE: Siddiqui NY, Edenfield AL. Clinical challenges in the management of vaginal prolapse. Int J Womens Health. 2014;6:83–94. Used with permission.

Sacrospinous ligament fixation attaches the vaginal apex to the unilateral or bilateral sacrospinous ligament(s) using absorbable or nonabsorbable suture. Care must be taken to avoid the pudendal nerve, artery, and vein.

SOURCE: Siddiqui NY, Edenfield AL. Clinical challenges in the management of vaginal prolapse. Int J Womens Health. 2014;6:83–94. Used with permission.

Uterosacral ligament suspension attaches the vaginal apex to the bilateral uterosacral ligaments above the level of the ischial spine using absorbable or nonabsorbable suture.

The 2 most commonly performed native tissue apical suspension procedures, SSLS and USLS, have equivalent outcomes at 2 years, according to a multicenter randomized trial.6 Therefore, the choice of procedure is at the surgeon's discretion. USLS is most commonly performed at the time of hysterectomy via an intraperitoneal approach, while SSLS is often selected for posthysterectomy vault prolapse, given its extraperitoneal location.

Suture type. Whether to use permanent suture at the time of SSLS or USLS is controversial. Some data suggest that permanent suture provides greater long-term success compared with delayed absorbable suture.7 However, permanent suture has been reported to be associated with higher rates of suture complications--up to 44% in USLS and 36% in SSLS--compared with a 3.5% complication rate in a USLS cohort treated with absorbable suture.8-10

Hysterectomy versus hysteropexy. Considerable debate exists regarding whether a patient requires hysterectomy at the time of prolapse repair. In a randomized trial at 12 months' follow-up, uterine preservation by sacrospinous hysteropexy was noninferior to vaginal hysterectomy with suspension of the uterosacral ligaments for surgical failure of the apical compartment.11 A recent meta-analysis found that apical failure rates after sacrospinous hysteropexy versus vaginal hysterectomy were not different.12 Repeat surgery rates for prolapse also were not different between groups. The most significant disadvantage of uterine-preservation prolapse surgery, when compared with hysterectomy, is the lack of prevention and diagnosis of uterine malignancy.12 From 2002 to 2012, rates of hysteropexy significantly increased in the United States, although rates remain low.13

Sling procedure pros and cons. This case patient did not report urinary incontinence, but she may develop incontinence with reduction of the anterior wall prolapse. A large randomized controlled trial that included 337 women compared sling with no sling procedures among women with prolapse undergoing transvaginal prolapse repair.14 Management with a prophylactic sling resulted in less incontinence (27.3% and 43.0%, respectively, at 12 months postoperatively) but higher rates of urinary tract infection (31.0% vs 18.3%), major bleeding complications (3.1% vs 0%), and incomplete bladder emptying 6 weeks after surgery (3.7% vs 0%) (P≤.05 for all).14

CASE 1 Recommendations for this patient
For this case, we would offer the patient a transvaginal hysterectomy and USLS. At the time of repair, we would assess whether she needed an anterior repair as well. We would offer a prophylactic sling procedure and also would discuss the risks and benefits of concomitant versus interval incontinence procedures.

CASE 2 Elderly woman with severe prolapse
An 85-year-old woman (G3P3) presents with procidentia, or complete eversion of the vagina, with the cervix 10 cm outside of the hymen. She has difficulty voiding, and the prolapse is uncomfortable when walking. A trial of pessary has failed. The patient denies vaginal bleeding. She is not sexually active and does not desire to retain coital function.

What treatment options would be appropriate for this patient?

Obliterative surgery

This elderly patient presents with advanced pelvic organ prolapse, and conservative management has failed. She is not sexually active and does not desire coital function in the future, so an obliterative procedure is indicated. Colpocleisis is a minimally invasive procedure that has cure rates ranging from 91% to 100%.15 It is likely that this patient's voiding dysfunction will improve after surgery and that she will be highly satisfied with the surgery.16

The question of hysterectomy with colpocleisis
The role of hysterectomy at the time of colpocleisis is controversial. LeFort colpocleisis preserves the uterus, with the anterior and posterior vaginal walls sutured together (FIGURE 3). Hysterectomy at the time of vaginal closure increases the operative time and blood loss.15 On the other hand, closure without hysterectomy prohibits future endometrial or cervical cancer screening.

SOURCE: Baggish MS, Karram MM. Atlas of pelvic anatomy and gynecologic surgery. 3rd ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2011. Used with permission.

Rectangular shaped areas of prolapsed vaginal epithelium are removed prior to imbrication and perineorrhaphy in the obliterative procedure LeFort colpocleisis.

In a recent review using the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program database, investigators compared women who underwent colopocleisis alone with those who underwent colpocleisis with hysterectomy.17 They found that the incidence of major complications was greater among women who underwent concomitant hysterectomy, and they concluded that hysterectomy should not be performed routinely at the time of colpocleisis.17

Among 322 urogynecologists who responded to a web-based survey, only 18% routinely performed hysterectomy at the time of colpocleisis.18 Further, in a decision analysis model, the utility for colpocleisis without hysterectomy was higher in women older than age 40, suggesting that hysterectomy should be performed only in special circumstances.19

Evaluating the endometrium. If the uterus remains in situ, should endometrial evaluation be performed? If so, should ultrasonography or endometrial biopsy be used? Authors of a decision analysis model found that among women at low risk for cancer and without abnormal uterine bleeding, endometrial biopsy was not favored until the probability of cancer reached 64%.20 Specifically, no evaluation or evaluation by transvaginal ultrasonography is adequate in the majority of cases.20 When screened by transvaginal ultrasonography, the high, 99% negative predictive value for endometrial disease, using a cutoff value of 5 mm for endometrial stripe width, will allow most patients to avoid unnecessary tissue sampling.

Stress incontinence. It is likely that this patient's voiding dysfunction will resolve with reduction of the prolapse, and she may develop stress incontinence symptoms. In up to 68% of women, occult stress incontinence will be revealed with reduction of stage 3 or stage 4 prolapse.21 If the patient demonstrates stress incontinence, a midurethral sling is likely to treat her incontinence effectively, with little added risk from the procedure.22 Even among women who have an elevated postvoid residual urine volume, the incidence of sling revision is low.15

CASE 2 Procedure recommendation for this patient
For this case, we would perform a LeFort colpocleisis and discuss whether or not the patient would prefer a midurethral sling if stress incontinence was demonstrated on examination. We would not perform endometrial evaluation in this patient, as she has not been bleeding and her risk for endometrial cancer is low.

Weighing the benefits of native tissue repair

Native tissue repair when performed transvaginally is a minimally invasive approach to prolapse repair. In a multicenter randomized trial, anatomic success was reported to be 64.5% at 2 years.6 Long-term follow up of patients undergoing mesh sacrocolpopexy shows a similar anatomic failure rate, with up to one-third of patients meeting the definition of composite failure.3 Unlike mesh-augmented repairs, however, adverse events, including bowel obstruction, mesh exposure, and thromboembolism, are more likely to occur in the mesh sacrocolpopexy group.23

Obliterative procedures have the highest success rates of all prolapse repairs and carry with them low morbidity. However, women must forego the ability for coitus in the future. For all native tissue vaginal repairs, the surgeon and patient must weigh the risks and benefits of concomitant anti-incontinence procedures.

Read about using abdominal sacrocolpopexy for apical prolapse repair.


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