New test for endometriosis
BY KATE HAGAN
20 Jan, 2012 04:00 AM
An ultrasound is just as effective as an invasive surgical procedure in diagnosing the female reproductive disorder endometriosis, a Melbourne specialist has found, in a development that could lead to more women being treated for the painful condition.
Sofie Piessens found the new technique was more than 90 per cent effective at diagnosing endometriosis, in an analysis of 100 patients she saw between 2009 and last year.
She presented her findings at the annual scientific meeting of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists last month.
About 15 per cent of women have endometriosis, which can cause severe pain and damage reproductive organs, leading to infertility in up to 50 per cent of cases.
Dr Piessens said the disorder, in which the cells lining the uterus migrate to the abdomen, was usually diagnosed with a laparoscopy, an operation to inspect the pelvic organs.
''Some people will have painful periods but not endometriosis, so to do a laparoscopy on everyone who has painful periods was quite invasive,'' she said.
''A lot of women are told the pain is normal and they have to put up with it, so there can be a significant delay in diagnosis and the endometriosis can become quite severe.''
Dr Piessens, a gynaecologist who specialises in ultrasound, said doctors had previously believed that ultrasounds could not detect endometriosis.
''Now groups around the world have published data to say if you just look backwards, behind the uterus, you can diagnosis a high proportion of women who have that really bad form of endometriosis,'' she said.
''With a normal vaginal ultrasound we look right ahead at the uterus, we turn it to the side to look at the ovaries, and I would like people to just look behind the uterus as well to look for endometriosis.
''It's something people need to become aware of and my feeling is, if there is demand from referring doctors, then imaging people will lift their game and look harder.''
Dr Piessens said the result was a speedier diagnosis which provided a template for surgeons performing complex surgery to remove the lesions.
She said the ultrasound could also be used to monitor the effect of hormone medication in shrinking the lesions, potentially avoiding surgery.
One of the patients who has benefited from the new diagnostic technique is Alana Vaughan, 29, who suffered for years with painful periods.
She said her symptoms ''returned with a vengeance'' when she stopped taking the contraceptive pill a few years ago, before she was referred to Dr Piessens who diagnosed her endometriosis. After extensive surgery to remove it, Ms Vaughan said she was now thrilled to be pregnant with twins.