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New Studies Inform Best Practices for Pelvic Organ Prolapse

For patients with uterine prolapse, a traditional technique showed superiority, while vaginal estrogen cream failed to improve outcomes for vaginal apical prolapse repair in two new studies published in JAMA.

Dr David Rahn

“Approximately one in five women will undergo surgery for prolapse and/or urinary incontinence by the age of 80, which is more likely than the risk of developing breast cancer,” said David D. Rahn, MD, corresponding author of the study on perioperative vaginal estrogen, in an interview.

“About 13% of women will specifically undergo surgery to repair pelvic organ prolapse,” said Dr. Rahn, of the department of obstetrics and gynecology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas. Reoperation for recurrent prolapse is not uncommon.

In their study, Dr. Rahn and colleagues examined whether the addition of perioperative vaginal estrogen cream in postmenopausal women with prolapse planning surgical correction could both strengthen the repair and lessen the likelihood of recurrence. The researchers randomized 206 postmenopausal women who were seeking surgical repair for bothersome anterior and apical vaginal prolapse to 1 gram of conjugated estrogen cream or a placebo for nightly vaginal insertion for 2 weeks, then twice weekly for at least 5 weeks of preoperative use. The treatment continued twice weekly for 12 months following surgery.

The primary outcome was the time to a failed prolapse repair by 12 months after surgery. Failure was defined by at least one of three criteria, “anatomical/objective prolapse of anterior or posterior walls beyond the hymen or the apex descending more than one-third of the vaginal length, subjective vaginal bulge symptoms, or repeated prolapse treatment,” the researchers wrote. The mean age of the patients was 65 years, and 90% and 92% of patients in the treatment and placebo groups, respectively, were White; 10% and 5%, respectively, were Black. Other baseline characteristics were similar between the groups.

After 12 months, the surgical failure incidence was not significantly different between the vaginal estrogen and placebo groups (19% vs. 9%, respectively; adjusted hazard ratio, 1.97).

Overall, anatomic recurrence was the most common outcome associated with surgical failure.

However, vaginal atrophy scores for most bothersome symptom was significantly better at 12 months in the vaginal estrogen group, compared with the placebo group, in a subset of 109 patients who reported vaginal atrophy that was at least “moderately bothersome,” the researchers said.

The findings were limited by several factors including the use of a nonvalidated instrument to assess secondary outcomes, the potentially short time period to the primary outcome, and the inclusion of the apex descending below one third total vaginal length as a criterion for surgical failure (which could be considered conservative), the researchers noted.

Unexpected results

“This work followed logically from a pilot study that similarly randomized postmenopausal women with prolapse planning surgical repair to vaginal estrogen cream versus placebo,” Dr. Rahn said. “In that smaller study, full thickness vaginal wall biopsies were collected at the time of surgery. Those participants who received the estrogen had a thicker vaginal epithelium, thicker underlying muscularis, and appeared to have a more robust concentration of strong connective tissue (i.e., type I collagen) with less of the proteases that break down connective tissue.”

This suggested that preoperative estrogen might optimize the vaginal tissue at the time of the repair. Dr. Rahn said. However, “despite evidence that the application of vaginal estrogen cream decreased the symptoms and signs of atrophic vaginal tissues, this did not lessen the likelihood of pelvic organ prolapse recurrence 12 months after surgical repair.”

The current study “would argue against routine prescription of vaginal estrogen to optimize vaginal tissue for prolapse repair, a practice that is recommended by some experts and commonly prescribed anecdotally,” said Dr. Rahn. “However, in those patients with prolapse and bothersome atrophy-related complaints such as vaginal dryness and pain with intercourse, vaginal estrogen may still be appropriate,” and vaginal estrogen also could be useful for postoperatively for patients prone to recurrent urinary tract infections.

Additional research from the study is underway, said Dr. Rahn. “All participants have now been followed to 3 years after surgery, and those clinical results are now being analyzed. In addition, full-thickness vaginal wall biopsies were collected at the time of all 186 surgeries; these are being analyzed and may yield important information regarding how biomarkers for connective tissue health could point to increased (or decreased) risk for prolapse recurrence.”

Manchester technique surpasses sacrospinous hysteropexy

In the second JAMA study, sacrospinous hysteropexy for uterine-sparing surgical management of uterine prolapse was less effective than the older Manchester procedure, based on data from nearly 400 individuals.

“Until now, the optimal uterus-sparing procedure for the treatment of uterine descent remained uncertain,” lead author Rosa Enklaar, MD, of Radboud (the Netherlands) University Medical Center, said in an interview.

“Globally, there has been a lack of scientific evidence comparing the efficacy of these two techniques, and this study aims to bridge that gap,” she said.

In their study, Dr. Enklaar and colleagues randomized 215 women to sacrospinous hysteropexy and 215 to the Manchester procedure. The mean age of the participants was 61.7 years.

The Manchester procedure involves “extraperitoneal plication of the uterosacral ligaments at the posterior side of the uterus and amputation of the cervix,” and “the cardinal ligaments are plicated on the anterior side of the cervix, ” the researchers wrote.

The primary outcome was a composite outcome of surgical success at 2 years after surgery, defined as the absence of three elements: absence of vaginal prolapse beyond the hymen, absence of bothersome bulge symptoms, and absence of retreatment of current prolapse.

Overall, 87.3% of patients in the Manchester group and 77.0% in the sacrospinous hysteropexy group met the primary outcome. At the end of the 2-year follow-up period, perioperative and patient-reported outcomes were not significantly different between the groups.

Dr. Enklaar said she was surprised by the findings. “At the start of this study, we hypothesized that there would be no difference between the two techniques,” as both have been used for a long period of time.

However, “based on the composite outcome of success at 2-year follow-up after the primary uterus-sparing surgery for uterine descent in patients with pelvic organ prolapse, these findings indicate that the sacrospinous hysteropexy is inferior to the Manchester procedure,” she said.

The study findings were limited by several factors including the lack of blinding and the applicability of the results only to women without uterine prolapse past the hymen, as well as the exclusion of patients with higher-stage prolapse, the researchers said. However, the results suggest that sacrospinous hysteropexy is inferior to the Manchester technique for uterine-sparing pelvic organ prolapse surgery.

As for additional research, few studies of prolapse surgery with long-term follow-up data are available, Dr. Enklaar said. “It is important that this current study will be continued to see the results after a longer follow-up period. Personalized health care is increasingly important, and we need to provide adequate information when counselling patients. With studies such as this one, we hope to improve the choices regarding surgical treatment of uterine descent.”

Studies challenge current prolapse protocols

The study by Dr. Rahn and colleagues contradicts the common clinical practice of preoperative vaginal estrogen to reduce recurrence of prolapse, wrote Charles W. Nager, MD, of the University of California San Diego Health, La Jolla, in an accompanying editorial that addressed both studies.

The results suggest that use of perioperative intravaginal estrogen had no impact on outcomes, “despite the surgeon assessment of less atrophy and better vaginal apex tissue in the estrogen group,” he noted. Although vaginal estrogen has other benefits in terms of patient symptoms and effects on the vaginal epithelium, “surgeons should not prescribe vaginal estrogen with the expectation that it will improve surgical success.”

The study by Dr. Enklaar and colleagues reflects the growing interest in uterine-conserving procedures, Dr. Nager wrote. The modified Manchester procedure conforms to professional society guidelines, and the composite outcome conforms to current standards for the treatment of pelvic organ prolapse.

Although suspension of the vaginal apex was quite successful, the researchers interpreted their noninferiority findings with caution, said Dr. Nager. However, they suggested that the modified Manchester procedure as performed in their study “has a role in modern prolapse surgical repair for women with uterine descent that does not protrude beyond the hymen.”

The vaginal estrogen study was supported by the National Institute on Aging, a Bridge Award from the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology and the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Foundation. Dr. Rahn disclosed grants from the National Institute on Aging, the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology, and the AAOGF bridge award, as well as nonfinancial support from National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and Pfizer during the study. The uterine prolapse study was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose. Dr. Nager had no financial conflicts to disclose.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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