In addition to the Trendelenburg position, we have adopted an “airplaning” technique for patients with a very large uterus in which the bed is tilted from side to side so that the left and right sides of the body are rotated upward as needed. This allows for gravitational-assisted retraction when it otherwise is not possible.
For morbidly obese patients, we use Kii Fios advanced fixation trocars. These come in 5- and 10-mm sizes and are equipped with an intraperitoneal balloon that can be inflated to prevent sliding of the trocar out of the abdominal wall.
By far the most valuable instrument for the morbidly obese and the very large uterus is a 30-degree laparoscope. With our higher port placement as described, the 30-degree scope provides visualization of critical structures that wouldn’t be possible with a 0-degree scope.
The Rumi uterine manipulator comes with cups that come in different sizes and can fit around the cervix and help delineate the cervicouterine junction. We use this manipulator for all laparoscopic hysterectomies, but it is a must for the very large uterus.
Extensive desiccation of the utero-ovarian pedicles and uterine arteries is critical, and for this we advise using the rotating bipolar RoBi instrument. Use of the conventional bipolar instrument allows us to use targeted and anatomically guided application of energy. This ensures certainty that vessels whose limits exceed the diameter for advanced bipolar devices (typically 7 mm) are completely sealed. In-depth knowledge of pelvic anatomy and advanced laparoscopic dissection is paramount during these steps to ensure that vital structures are not damaged by the wider thermal spread of the traditional bipolar device. For cutting, the use of ultrasonic energy is important to prevent energy from spreading laterally.
Lastly, we recommend a good suction irrigator because, if bleeding occurs, it tends to be heavy because of the enlarged nature of feeding vasculature. When placed through an umbilical or suprapubic port, the suction irrigator also may be used to help with the rotational vectors and traction for further uterine manipulation.
We usually operate from top to bottom, transecting the upper pedicles such as the infundibulopelvic (IP) ligaments or utero-ovarian ligaments first, rather than the round ligaments. This helps us achieve additional mobility of the uterus. Some surgeons believe that retroperitoneal dissection and ligation of the uterine arteries at their origin is essential, but we find that, with good uterine manipulation and the use of a 30-degree scope, we achieve adequate visualization for identifying the ureter and uterine artery on the sidewall and consequently do not need to dissect retroperitoneally.
When using the uterine manipulator with the colpotomy cup, the uterus is pushed upward, increasing the distance between the vaginal fornix and the ureters. Uterine arteries can easily be identified and desiccated using conventional bipolar energy. When the colpotomy cup is pushed cephalad, the application of the bipolar energy within the limits of the cup is safe. The thermal spread does not pose a threat to the ureters, which are displaced 1.5-2 cm laterally. Large fibroids often contribute to distorted anatomical planes, and a colpotomy cup provides a firm palpable surface between the cervix and vagina during dissection.
When dealing with large uteri, one must sometimes think outside the box and deviate from standard technique. For instance, in patients with distorted anatomy because of large fibroids, it helps to first control the pedicles that are most easily accessible. Sometimes it is acceptable to perform oophorectomy if the IP ligament is more accessible and the utero-ovarian pedicle is distorted by dilated veins and adherent to the uterus. After transection of each pedicle, we gain more mobility of the uterus and better visualization for the next step.
Inserting the camera through ancillary ports – a technique known as “port hopping” – helps to visualize and take down adhesions much better and more safely than using the camera from the umbilical port only. Port hopping with a 30-degree laparoscope helps to obtain a 360-degree view of adhesions and anatomy, which is exceedingly helpful in cases in which crucial anatomical structures are within close proximity of one another.
In general it is more challenging to perform TLH on a patient with a broad uterus or a patient with low posterior fibroids that are occupying the pelvis than on a patient with fibroids in the upper abdomen. The main challenge for the surgeon is to safely secure the uterine arteries and control the blood supply to the uterus.
Access to the pelvic sidewall is obtained with the combination of 30-degree scope, uterine manipulator, and the suction irrigator introduced through the midline port; the cervix and uterus are deviated upward. Instead of the suction irrigator or blunt dissector used for internal uterine manipulation, some surgeons use myoma screws or a 5-mm single-tooth tenaculum to manipulate a large uterus. Both of those instruments are valuable and work well, but often a large uterus requires extensive manipulation. Repositioning of any sharp instruments that pierce the serosa can often lead to additional blood loss. It is preferable to avoid this blood loss on a large uterus at all costs because it can be brisk and stains the surgical pedicles, making the remainder of the procedure unnecessarily difficult.
Once the uterine arteries are desiccated, if fibroids are obscuring the view, the corpus of the uterus can be detached from the cervix as in supracervical hysterectomy fashion. From there, the uterus can be placed in the upper abdomen while colpotomy can be performed.
In patients with multiple fibroids, we do not recommend performing myomectomy first, unless the fibroid is pedunculated and on a very small stalk. Improved uterine manipulation and retroperitoneal dissection are preferred over myomectomy to safely complete hysterectomy for the broad uterus. In our opinion, any attempt at myomectomy would lead to unnecessary blood loss and additional operative time with minimal benefit.
In patients with fibroids that grow into the broad ligament and pelvic sidewall, the natural course of the ureter becomes displaced laterally. This is contrary to the popular misconception that the ureter is more medially located in the setting of broad-ligament fibroids. To ensure safe access to the uterine arteries, the vesicouterine peritoneum can be incised and extended cephalad along the broad ligament and, then, using the above-mentioned technique, by pushing the uterus and the fibroid to the contralateral side via the suction irrigator, the uterine arteries can be easily accessed.
Another useful technique is to use diluted vasopressin injected into the lower pole of the uterus to cause vasoconstriction and minimize the bleeding. The concentration is 1 cc of 20 units of vasopressin in 100-400 cc of saline. This technique is very useful for myomectomies, and some surgeons find it also helpful for hysterectomy. The plasma half-life of vasopressin is 10-20 minutes, and a large quantity is needed to help with vasoconstriction in a big uterus. The safe upper limits of vasopressin dosing are not firmly established. A fibroid uterus with aberrant vasculature may require a greater-than-acceptable dose to control bleeding.
It is important to ensure that patients have an optimized hemoglobin level preoperatively. We use a hemoglobin level of 8 g/dL as a lowest cutoff value for performing TLH without preoperative transfusion. Regarding bowel preparation, neither the literature nor our own experience support its value, so we typically do not use it.