By Ted L. Anderson, M.D., Ph.D.
October 24, 2011
"What is the hardest of all to do? To see with our eyes what our eyes lay before us. (Paraphrased, with apologies from Goethe) That essentially is the message of the innovative efforts of Ms. Deborah Bush, Chairperson of the New Zealand Endometriosis Foundation. She has developed an interactive Menstrual Health and Endometriosis Education Program that has been presented to over 40,000 young women (ages 15-24), educators and clinicians. There has been an overwhelmingly positive response as this population gained better knowledge of what is "normal" and how to recognize the symptoms of endometriosis. Of note, anecdotal reports show this program has resulted in increased referrals to gynecologists and increased early diagnosis and treatment. Hopefully, such early intervention will mitigate the long-term sequellae of adhesions, pain and infertility. On the other hand, it is too often that we dismiss endometriosis as a source of pelvic and rectal pain, especially in young women and after hysterectomy and salpingo-oophorectomy.
However, infiltrative endometriosis involving the apical vaginal wall, the anterior rectal wall and the soft tissues of the cul-de-sac are not uncommon. This is the advice from Dr. Ray Garry and his colleagues from WEL Foundation, South Cleveland Hospital, Middleborough, UK. Using his techniques of radical laparoscopic excision, he excises the tissue bounded by the uterosacral ligaments laterally, the anterior rectal wall posteriorly and the posterior cervix. Then he removes the tissue en bloc. This technique offers relief from dysmenorrhea, dyspareunia, rectal pain and general pelvic pain in over 80% of his patients as measured by a standardized questionnaire. They have not examined the potential added benefit of hormonal suppressive therapy pre or post-operatively. Despite excellent results in this difficult patient population, this group continues to follow long-term success, as will we, with great interest."
The patient with pelvic pain continues to be one of the greatest therapeutic challenges to gynaecologists. There have been few developments in recent years that will impact treatment success in these patients, as we will likely see with conscious laparoscopy and pain mapping. This was illustrated beautifully in an excellent workshop on pelvic pain, moderated by Dr. Christopher Sutton (The Guilford Nuffield Hospital, Surrey, UK). Our concepts of pain aetiologies were challenged by Dr. FM. Howard (Rochester General Hospital, NY, USA), who provided evidence that endometriosis lesions accounted for only 1/3 of pain described by patients during conscious pain mapping, with adhesions accounting for another 1/3. This group called into question the routine use of postoperative GnRH agonists in this patient population. Dr. John Steege (University of North Carolina, USA), demonstrated the power of pain mapping by showing a procedure without sound in a post-hysterectomy patient with adhesions involving the pelvic sidewall and vaginal cuff, as well as an ovarian remnant. After an audience poll of operative options, he replayed the tape with audio feedback from the patient during the procedure. Much to our surprise, this experience changed the opinion of appropriate operative intervention in a substantial number of participants. Dr. Lawrence Demco (University of Calgary, Canada), illustrated his techniques of pain mapping through multiple video clips. Interestingly, many patients described pain with touching of peritoneal surfaces up to 2.5 cm away from visible endometriotic lesions. Additionally, he demonstrated that the pain perceived by the patient frequently does not correlate with the position of lesions or pain elicited during mapping. For example, touching visible endometriosis on the left pelvic sidewall often correlated with right-sided pelvic pain experienced by the patient. Using these techniques to guide subsequent operative interventions, he has described greater than 80% of patients remain pain free at 6 months follow-up. Dr. Sutton presented his prospective randomized double-blinded study that demonstrated the efficacy of operative treatment for stage I-III endometriosis compared with no treatment. Not surprisingly, there was increasing benefit of surgical treatment with advancing endometriosis stage. Additionally, he presented the results of a study showing no additional benefit of LUNA when endometriosis is ablated surgically. Certainly the message we can learn from this workshop will continue to guide our ability to understand and treat pelvic pain.