Clinical Review

Endometriosis: Expert answers to 7 crucial questions on diagnosis

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“When the first-line approach to chronic pelvic pain is hormonal treatment, laparoscopy is considered when these medical treatments have failed to control the pain or are poorly tolerated, or when the diagnosis of endometriosis is in question,” Dr. Stratton says.

“Laparoscopy to treat endometriomas is indicated if an endometrioma is enlarging, measures more than 4 cm in diameter, or if the diagnosis of an ovarian mass is in question,” she explains. “While surgeons have previously been aggressive in removing endometriomas, this practice may have negative consequences on ovarian function. Because endometriomas are pseudocysts, removing them completely leads to the removal of viable ovarian tissue and may diminish ovarian reserve.”21,22

7. What is the surgical appearance of endometriosis?
Dr. Giudice returns to the enigmatic nature of endometriosis in addressing this question, mentioning its “many faces” at the time of surgery. “It is imperative that the surgeon recognize the disease in its many forms,” she says. “Also, it is especially helpful at the time of surgery if suspected lesions are biopsied and sent to pathology to have the diagnosis made unequivocally.”5

As for the surgical appearance of endometriosis, Dr. Stratton notes that there are 3 types of lesions—“superficial lesions, deep infiltrating lesions, and endometriomas. Endometriomas occur almost exclusively in the ovary and are pseudocysts without an identifiable cystic lining. They vary in dimension from a few millimeters to several centimeters.”

“Superficial peritoneal endometriosis lesions have a variable appearance, with some lesions being clear or red, some brown, blue or black, and some having a white appearance, like a scar,” says Dr. Stratton. “Endometriosis can be diagnosed on histologic examination of any of these lesion types.

“Overall, single-color lesions have similar frequencies of biopsy-confirmed endometriosis (59% to 62%),” she says.23 “These lesion appearances likely represent different stages of development of endometriosis, with red or clear lesions occurring first, soon after endometrial tissue implantation; black, blue, or brown lesions occurring later, in response to the hormones varying in the menstrual cycle; and white lesions occurring as the lesions age. Deep infiltrating lesions generally have blue/black or white features.”

“Wide, deep, multiple-color lesions in the cul-de-sac, ovarian fossa or uterosacral ligaments are most likely endometriosis,” Dr. Stratton adds.23 Only lesions with multiple colors have a significantly higher percentage of positive biopsies (76%). Importantly, over half of women with only subtle lesions (small red or white lesions) have endometriosis.

CASE Resolved
You tell the patient that endometriosis is one of the possible diagnoses for her chronic pelvic pain, and you take a focused history. During a pelvic examination, you observe that her right ovary lacks mobility, and you map a number of trigger points for her pain. Transvaginal ultrasound results suggest the presence of nodules in the rectovaginal septum. You begin empiric treatment with continuous combined hormonal contraceptives to suppress menstruation. On her next visit, the patient reports reduced but still bothersome pain. Laparoscopy reveals a 2-cm endometrioma in the right ovary and deep infiltrating lesions in the cul-de-sac. The endometrioma is resected. Histology confirms the diagnosis of endometriosis.


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