NEW procedure | Uterine Transposition

Blog by Prof. Andreas Obermair, Director of QCGC Research

From 10 to 14 March, I attended the Society of Gynecologic Oncology 2017 Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. and was fortunate enough to witness the introduction of a new surgical procedure I have never heard of before.

Dr Reitan Ribeiro from Brazil presented the case of a 26-year-old women diagnosed with rectal cancer who required chemoradiation to the pelvis. In premenopausal women with intact reproductive organs, radical chemoradiation to the pelvis will damage not only the ovaries but also the uterus beyond repair.

While fertility is not a big issue for some women, it may be a big issue for others; in particular if there are ways to avert surgically-induced infertility.

The maximally tolerated radiation dose causing ovarian failure is only 15 Gy; the maximally tolerated dose to the uterus and the cervix is slightly higher (20 Gy to 30 Gy). By contrast, the dose used for radiation treatment for rectal cancer is approximately 50 Gy, which is significantly higher.

During chemoradiation treatment the entire pelvis will be treated with radiation. In addition, the patient will receive chemotherapy in order to increase the effectiveness of the radiation. Rectal cancer is rather sensitive to radiation and treatment outcomes are often excellent. However, and invariably, all pelvic organs receiving significant amounts of radiation will suffer damage.

The particular patient in the case presented by Dr Ribeiro is young and has not yet had children. In order to save this patient’s fertility, he offered her a laparoscopic transposition of the uterus, moving the uterus and ovaries out of the radiation field. After her treatment was completed the uterus and the ovaries were repositioned back into the pelvis.

I share this case report with you because I have not heard about such a procedure before. I do believe that the procedure is worth studying not only because it is new but also because technically it is similar to a radical trachelectomy, a procedure many gynaecological oncologists offer patients already.

Dr. Ribeiro and his team conducted the entire procedure laparoscopically (key hole surgery) without a big abdominal incision. The basis for this procedure is that the blood vessels to the ovaries also provide good blood supply for the uterus at the same time.

In his presentation to a packed room of gynaecological oncologists, Dr. Ribeiro acknowledged that further studies are needed to evaluate the viability of the uterus, as well as the procedure’s safety and effectiveness. Herniation of the small bowel, viability of the uterus and the ovaries and oncological concerns about the potential to spread tumour will need to be evaluated.

A review of the literature has not revealed that such a procedure has been performed previously. As a gynaecological oncologist I am familiar with transposing ovaries for patients who require radiation treatment to the pelvis for cervical cancer and who should not develop radiation-induced menopause.

For many surgeons like me, this new surgical procedure will be a modest extension of our existing surgical capabilities. Therefore, I believe that gynaecological oncologists will quickly learn and adapt to this new procedure.

However, we need to remain vigilant and cautious about possible disastrous adverse events and Dr. Ribeiro’s presentation did touch on the possibility of complications. One of the potentially serious complications we need to be concerned about is the possibility of spreading tumour that would have been potentially curable but has now been moved into locations that are not amenable for radiation treatment.

It is imperative that we collaborate with our colorectal surgical colleagues in order to select the appropriate patients for such experimental treatment. It would be a shame if a new and potentially valuable surgical procedure would attract disrepute by being offered to the wrong patients.

Selecting the appropriate patients and offering young cancer patients fertility-preserving options will open yet another door into patient-centered surgical care.

Last updated:
21 March 2017