According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions, in 2019 2.1% of all infants born in the United States were conceived by assisted reproductive technology (ART). Now 45 years old, ART, namely in vitro fertilization (IVF), is offered in nearly 500 clinics in the United States, contributing to over 300,000 treatment cycles per year.
A tubal factor is responsible for 30% of female infertility and may involve proximal and/or distal tubal occlusion, irrespective of pelvic adhesions.1 Before the advent of IVF, the sole approach to the treatment of a tubal factor had been surgery. Given its success and minimal invasiveness, IVF is increasingly being offered to circumvent a tubal factor for infertility. This month we examine the utility of surgical treatment of tubal factor infertility. The options for fertility with a history of bilateral tubal ligation was covered in a prior Reproductive Rounds column.
Tubal disease and pelvic adhesions prevent the normal transport of the oocyte and sperm through the fallopian tube. The primary etiology of tubal factor infertility is pelvic inflammatory disease, mainly caused by chlamydia or gonorrhea. Other conditions that may interfere with tubal transport include severe endometriosis, adhesions from previous surgery, or nontubal infection (for example, appendicitis, inflammatory bowel disease), pelvic tuberculosis, and salpingitis isthmica nodosa (that is, diverticulosis of the fallopian tube).
Proximal tubal occlusion
During a hysterosalpingogram (HSG), transient uterine cornual spasm can result if a woman experiences significant uterine cramping, thereby resulting in a false-positive diagnosis of proximal tubal occlusion. When a repeat HSG is gently performed with slow instillation of contrast, uterine cramping is less likely, and the tubal patency rate is 60%. PTO may also result from plugs of mucus and amorphous debris, but this is not true occlusion.2 In cases with unilateral PTO, controlled ovarian hyperstimulation with intrauterine insemination has resulted in pregnancy rates similar to those in patients with unexplained infertility.3
Reconstructive surgery for bilateral PTO has limited effectiveness and the risk of subsequent ectopic pregnancy is as high as 20%.4 A more successful option is fluoroscopic tubal catheterization (FTC), an outpatient procedure performed in a radiology or infertility center. FTC uses a coaxial catheter system where the outer catheter is guided through the tubal ostium and an inner catheter is atraumatically advanced to overcome the blockage. This procedure is 85% successful for tubal patency with 50% of patients conceiving in the first 12 months; one-third of time the tubes reocclude. After the reestablishment of patency with FTC, the chance of achieving a live birth is 22% and the risk of ectopic pregnancy is 4%.5
Treatment of distal tubal occlusion – the hydrosalpinx
Surgery for treating tubal factor infertility is most successful in women with distal tubal obstruction (DTO), often caused by a hydrosalpinx. Fimbrioplasty is the lysis of fimbrial adhesions or dilatation of fimbrial strictures; the tube is patent, but there are adhesive bands that surround the terminal end with preserved tubal rugae. Gentle introduction of an alligator laparoscopic forceps into the tubal ostium followed by opening and withdrawal of the forceps helps to stretch the tube and release minor degrees of fimbrial agglutination.6
A hydrosalpinx is diagnosed by DTO with dilation and intraluminal fluid accumulation along with the reduction/loss of endothelial cilia. Left untreated, a hydrosalpinx can lead to a 50% reduction in IVF pregnancy rates.7 Tube-sparing treatment involves neosalpingostomy to create a new tubal opening. A nonsurgical approach, ultrasound-guided aspiration of hydrosalpinges, has not been shown to significantly increase the rate of clinical pregnancy. Efficacy for improving fertility is generally poor, but depends upon tubal wall thickness, ampullary dilation, presence of mucosal folds, percentage of ciliated cells in the fimbrial end, and peritubal adhesions.8
Evidence supports that laparoscopic salpingectomy in women with hydrosalpinges improves the outcomes of IVF treatment, compared with no surgical intervention.9 The improvement in pregnancy and live birth rates likely stems from the elimination of the retrograde flow of embryotoxic fluid that disrupts implantation. Endometrial receptivity markers (endometrial cell adhesion molecules, integrins, and HOXA10) have been shown to be reduced in the presence of hydrosalpinx.10 A small, randomized trial demonstrated that bipolar diathermy prior to IVF improved pregnancy outcomes.11 PTO was not more effective than salpingectomy. Conceptions, without IVF, have been reported following salpingectomy for unilateral hydrosalpinx.12
In a series including 434 patients with DTO who underwent laparoscopic fimbrioplasty (enlargement of the ostium) or neosalpingostomy (creation of a new ostium) by a single surgeon, 5-year actuarial delivery rates decreased as the severity of tubal occlusion increased; the ectopic rate was stable at approximately 15%.13 A prospective study reported that the relative increase in the pregnancy rate after salpingectomy was greatest in women with a large hydrosalpinx visible on ultrasound.14
Because of the possible risks of decreased ovarian reserve secondary to interruption of ovarian blood supply, salpingectomy should be done with minimal thermal injury and very close to the fallopian tube.
Surgery may be considered for young women with mild distal tubal disease as one surgical procedure can lead to several pregnancies whereas IVF must be performed each time pregnancy is desired. IVF is more likely than surgery to be successful in women with bilateral hydrosalpinx, in those with pelvic adhesions, in older reproductive aged women, and for both proximal and distal tubal occlusion.15 An online prediction calculator from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) can be helpful in counseling patients on personalized expectations for IVF pregnancy outcomes.
Dr. Trolice is director of The IVF Center in Winter Park, Fla., and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Central Florida, Orlando.
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