Today, laparoscopy is an alternative technique for carrying out many operations that have traditionally required an open approach.
The benefits of minimal access surgery have been well recorded, including lower post-operative morbidity, shorter duration of hospital stay and a shorter return to work.
Advances in technology, specifically in fibre optics and video imaging, have made the relatively recent rapid progress in laparoscopic surgery possible. Operative laparoscopy, however, requires a high degree of technical skill and training.
The use of small instruments and imaging systems that provide magnification allow for the high degree of precision that can be achieved with laparoscopic surgery. This is often difficult to obtain by a conventional laparotomy, as magnification is not available and the surgeon’s hands and large instruments often obscure the operative field.
It is this precision that has lead to advances in the treatment of conditions such as endometriosis, adhesions and in the field of reproductive surgery.
Hysterectomy remains one of the most common gynaecological inpatient procedures. Since most hysterectomies are performed for benign conditions, the choice of route almost entirely depends upon the surgeon’s skill and experience. Avoiding a laparotomy in the appropriately chosen patient is without doubt beneficial. A recent Cochrane review has looked at the evidence for which route is best for performing hysterectomy. The conclusions were that the vaginal route is best. In patients whom the vaginal route is not possible, laparoscopic hysterectomy has benefits over the abdominal route. The benefits of laparoscopic hysterectomy versus abdominal hysterectomy were lower intraoperative blood (reduced drop in haemoglobin level), shorter duration of hospital stay, speedier return to normal activities, fewer wound or abdominal wall infections, fewer unspecified infections or febrile episodes, at the cost of longer operating time and more urinary tract (bladder or ureter) injuries.
Careful selection of pre-operative counseling of patients is therefore of paramount importance.
Uterine fibroids are responsible for a wide variety of symptoms, including menorrhagia, pain/pressure symptoms, urinary tract symptoms and have been implicated in subfertility. The management of fibroids depends on the patient’s symptoms and the location of the fibroid in the uterus.
Asymptomatic patients can be managed conservatively and those in whom fertility is not an issue can be managed medically or by hysterectomy. Where fertility needs to be conserved, myomectomy is the treatment of choice.
Submucus fibroids can be normally be resected hysteroscopically but intramural and subserosal fibroids require an abdominal approach.
Laparoscopic myomectomy has been demonstrated as a feasible procedure in a number of observational studies. The large spectrum of fibroid size and location, difficulty with morcellation and removal, and the technical requirements of suturing make the procedure difficult to perform. These difficulties also complicate clinical outcome based evaluation and there is very little data evaluating relevant outcomes of this procedure.
The principle potential advantage of laparoscopic myomectomy over the open approach is a reduction in inpatient stay and an earlier return to normal activities. Theoretically, the reduction in tissue handling and manipulation and not using packs may reduce tissue trauma and adhesion formation.
The restrictions of laparoscopic surgery, however, include that it may not be possible to remove multiple fibroids through the same incision and the surgeon loses the ability to palpate the uterine tissue, detecting smaller fibroids. It may also be more difficult to approximate myometrial and serosal tissues, leading to poor healing of the uterine wall potentially leading to complications in future pregnancies. A recent survey of UK gynaecologists revealed that just over 10% performed laparoscopic myomectomies as part of their normal practice.
The diagnosis of endometriosis is based on the presence of endometrial-like tissue outside the uterine cavity. Clinically, three entities can be distinguished: peritoneal implants, endometriotic cysts and deep nodular lesions. Laparoscopy and biopsy remain the gold standard for diagnosis; however, the skill of the surgeon is crucial to achieving an accurate diagnosis. The surgeon who does not perform laparoscopic surgery routinely will certainly diagnose typical endometriotic lesions, but risks missing a substantial amount of subtle disease. The laparoscopic surgeon should therefore adhere to a systematic approach and meticulous method of evaluating the pelvis to assure complete diagnosis of endometriosis. The laparoscope affords the surgeon the capability of altering the field of view, depending upon the proximity of the laparoscope to the tissue.
The definitive treatment of endometriosis for both pelvic pain and fertility is through laparoscopic excision or vaporization of the endometriotic tissue. For fertility, this was demonstrated through the Canadian Collaborative Group in Endometriosis who carried out a randomized controlled trial to determine whether laparoscopic surgery enhanced pregnancy rates in infertile women with minimal or mild endometriosis. They concluded that laparoscopic resection or ablation of minimal and mild endometriosis enhances pregnancy rates in infertile women (cumulative probabilities, 30.7% in the treated group and 17.7% in the untreated group).
Background: Subfertility is very common with 1 in 6 couples seeking specialist help. Approximately 84% couples will achieve a pregnancy in 1 year of regular unprotected intercourse which increases to 92% after 2 years. Referral for specialist advice should be considered after at least 1 year of trying, though under certain situations (female age > 35 years; known fertility problems; anovulatory cycles; severe endometriosis; previous pelvic inflammatory disease; malignancy) prompt investigations and referral may be recommended. Couples should be treated on an individual basis, as there is not necessarily a right answer as to when investigations and treatment should start. The management of subfertility aims to correct any specific problem which may or may not be diagnosed.