Gynecologic Oncology Consult

Complex atypical hyperplasia: When is it appropriate to refer?


An alternative to the all (complete lymphadenectomy) or none (hysterectomy alone) approach is to perform sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy for patients with CAH. SLN biopsy involves removing scant, but high yield lymphatic tissue, and has been shown to be extremely sensitive in detecting metastatic disease.10 This approach is commonly employed by surgeons in the treatment of ductal carcinoma in situ of the breast which, like CAH, is a stage 0 cancer that can be associated with invasive carcinoma on final pathology. In the case of ductal carcinoma in situ, the risk for upstaging is actually substantially lower (25%) than what is observed in CAH.11 Therefore, it would seem even more compelling to apply this approach for endometrial pathologies. The ability to apply the SLN technique is lost after hysterectomy is performed, as there is no longer the target organ into which tracer can be injected; therefore, if SLN biopsy is to be offered to these patients, it needs to be performed using only the preoperative diagnosis of CAH. In this approach, there will be overtreatment of approximately two-thirds of patients, albeit with a less radical and morbid staging procedure.

Making the decision to refer

Ultimately, decisions to refer or not are guided by comprehensive discussions between patient and provider that outline the potential risks and benefits of various approaches. Patients frequently have strong relationships with confidence in their gynecologists who may have cared for them for many years, and may be motivated to have them perform their surgery. For others, the uncertainty and possibility of an unstaged cancer and the potential of a second surgery drives their decision to seek an oncology consultation. Clinicians should discuss the inherent uncertainties in the diagnosis of CAH and the potential for underlying cancer and lymph node metastases, and help patients determine the balance of their underlying competing concerns regarding the risk for inadequate surgery versus the risk of unnecessary surgical procedures.

Summary of recommendations

Invasive endometrial cancer will be identified in the hysterectomy specimens of approximately 40% of women with a preoperative diagnosis of complex endometrial hyperplasia. Preoperative dilation and curettage may reduce the potential for missed occult cancer. Frozen section is an option for determining which patients might benefit from staging but is associated with significant inaccuracies. Failure to diagnose malignancy pre- or intraoperatively handicaps postoperative decision making regarding the necessity of adjuvant chemotherapy, and prevents the ability to offer patients potentially less morbid staging techniques such as SLN biopsy. When gynecologists without oncology training perform these hysterectomies, they should discuss these scenarios to patients and consider referral to gynecologic oncology for patients who desire the potential for comprehensive staging if necessary.

Dr. Rossi is an assistant professor in the division of gynecologic oncology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She reports no relevant financial disclosures.


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