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Updated endometriosis guidelines emphasize less laparoscopy, more hormone therapy


Updated guidelines for the management and treatment of endometriosis reflect changes in clinical practice to guide clinician and patient decision-making, according to a statement from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, which issued the guidelines in February 2022.

Although the exact prevalence of endometriosis remains unclear, estimates suggest that approximately 190 million women and adolescent girls are affected by endometriosis during their reproductive years, and women continue to suffer beyond menopause, according to the authors. Endometriosis has a significant impact on society through both direct and indirect health care costs comparable to those of type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease, they noted.

The guidelines are the first update on the topic of endometriosis since 2014, and include more than 100 recommendations, according to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE). The target audience, according to the authors, is secondary and tertiary health care providers who treat women with endometriosis. The recommendations were based on research papers published up to Dec. 1, 2020.

Although most of the recent studies confirm previous ESHRE recommendations, several topics reflect significant changes in clinical practice.

Notably, laparoscopy is no longer recommended as the diagnostic gold standard, and should be used only in patients with negative imaging for whom empirical treatment was unsuccessful.

For pain management, studies support the use of GnRH antagonists as a second-line treatment, while laparoscopic uterosacral nerve ablation and presacral neurectomy are no longer included in the recommendations.

The guidelines include new information on pregnancy and fertility preservation for women with endometriosis. The Endometriosis Fertility Index (EFI) was added to support joint decision-making for women seeking pregnancy after surgery. However, the extended use of GnRH antagonist prior to assisted reproductive technology treatments to improve live birth rate is not recommended.

Endometriosis in adolescent patients is included in the guidelines for the first time, and strong recommendations include taking a careful history and using ultrasound if appropriate, but the use of serum biomarkers is not recommended for diagnosis. Strong recommendations for treatment strategies for adolescents include hormonal contraceptives or progestins as a first-line therapy.

Recommendations for managing endometriosis in menopause are more extensive than in previous guidelines and the strongest update is against the use of estrogen-only treatment in these patients. However, the guidelines continue to recommend treating women with a history of endometriosis after surgical menopause with combined estrogen-progestogen therapy “at least up to the age of natural menopause.”

Expanded recommendations related to endometriosis and cancer begin with a strong recommendation for clinicians to advise women that endometriosis is not associated with a significantly higher risk of cancer overall. “Although endometriosis is associated with a higher risk of ovarian, breast, and thyroid cancers in particular, the increase in absolute risk compared with women in the general population is low,” the authors wrote. Other strong recommendations include reassuring women with endometriosis of the low risk of malignancy associated with hormonal contraceptive use, and performing cancer screening according to the existing population-based guidelines without additional screening. Epidemiologic data show that complete excision of visible endometriosis may reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, but the potential benefits must be weighed against the risks of surgery, including morbidity, pain, and ovarian reserve, the authors said.

The guidelines include recommendations related to asymptomatic endometriosis, extrapelvic endometriosis, and primary prevention of endometriosis, but without major changes to the 2014 guidelines.


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