Clinical Review

The role of hysteroscopy in diagnosing endometrial cancer

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Atypical endometrial hyperplasia: A difficult diagnosis

The most common type of endometrial cancer is endometrioid adenocarcinoma (type 1 endometrial carcinoma), and it accounts for approximately 75% to 80% of endometrial cancer diagnoses.8 Risk factors include prolonged unopposed estrogen exposure, obesity, diabetes, and age. Type 1 endometrial carcinoma follows a progressive continuum of histopathologic change: from endometrial hyperplasia without atypia to endometrial hyperplasia with atypia (AEH) to well-differentiated endometrial cancer. Therefore, it is possible for endometrial carcinoma to be present simultaneously with AEH. The reported prevalence of concurrent endometrial carcinoma among patients with AEH on biopsy is between 17% and 52%.8 Thus, the clinical consideration is for hysterectomy, especially in the postmenopausal patient with a diagnosis of AEH.

Hysteroscopic diagnosis of AEH, however, is more difficult than identification of endometrial carcinoma because a range of morphologic characteristics exist that resemble normal endometrium as well as more progressive disease (VIDEO 5). De Franciscis and colleagues based a hysteroscopic diagnosis of hyperplasia on one or more of the following findings: focal or diffuse, papillary or polypoid, endometrial thickening; abnormal vascular patterns; evidence of glandular cysts; and abnormal architecture features of the glandular outlets (thickening, irregular gland density, or dilatation)9 (VIDEO 6).

Video 5. Endometrial polyp and atypical hyperplasia

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Additional studies, including that from Ianieri and colleagues, also have determined that AEH is difficult to discern visually from normal endometrium and other endometrial pathologies.6 In another investigation, Lasmar and coauthors reported a retrospective analysis of 4,054 hysteroscopic procedures with directed biopsies evaluating for concordance between the hysteroscopic view and histopathology.10 Agreement was 56.3% for AEH versus 94% for endometrial carcinoma. Among those with a histologic diagnosis of AEH, in 35.4% benign disease was suspected; in 2.1%, endometrial carcinoma was suspected; and in 6%, normal findings were presumed.10

Video 6. Nodular, polypoid atypical hyperplasia

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Because of the similarities in morphologic features between AEH and endometrial carcinoma, tissue biopsy under direct visualization is warranted to assure sampling of the most significantly abnormal tissue and to confirm visual interpretation of findings.

Techniques for hysteroscopic-directed biopsy

Using a visual assessment of endometrial abnormalities allows the surgeon to examine the entire uterine cavity and to biopsy the most suspicious and concerning lesions. The directed biopsy technique can involve a simple grasping maneuver: With the jaws of a small grasper open, push slightly forward to accumulate tissue within the jaw, close the jaw, and remove the tissue carefully through the cervix (VIDEO 7). The size of the sample may be limited, and multiple samples may be needed, depending on the quantity of the tissue retrieved.

Video 7. Visually directed endometrial biopsy

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Another technique involves first creating a plane of tissue to be removed with scissors and subsequently grasping and removing the tissue (see video 1 and video 3). This particular technique will yield more tissue with one pass of the hysteroscope into the cavity. Careful removal of tissue through the cervix is facilitated by withdrawing the sample in the grasper and the hysteroscope together at the same time, without pulling the sample through the operative channel of the hysteroscope. Also, by turning off the inflow port, the stream of saline does not wash the sample off the grasper at hysteroscope removal from the cervix.

Blind biopsy. If visual inspection reveals a diffuse process within the uterine cavity such that no normal endometrium is noted and the abnormality is of equal degree throughout the endometrial surface, a decision can be made to replace directed biopsy with a blind biopsy. In this scenario, the blind biopsy is certain to sample the representative disease process and not potentially miss significant lesions (see video 4 and video 6). Otherwise, the hysteroscope-directed biopsy would be preferable.

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