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Papers: 6 Jan 2024 - 12 Jan 2024

2024 Jan 10

Hum Reprod


Towards comprehensive management of symptomatic endometriosis: beyond the dichotomy of medical versus surgical treatment.


Mijatovic V, Vercellini P


Except when surgery is the only option because of organ damage, the presence of suspicious lesions, or the desire to conceive, women with endometriosis-associated pain often face a choice between medical and surgical treatment. In theory, the description of the potential benefits and potential harms of the two alternatives should be standardized, unbiased, and based on strong evidence, enabling the patient to make an informed decision. However, doctor’s opinion, intellectual competing interests, local availability of specific services and (mis)information obtained from social media, and online support groups can influence the type of advice given and affect patients’ choices. This is compounded by the paucity of robust data from randomized controlled trials, and the anxiety of distressed women who are eager to do anything to alleviate their disabling symptoms. Vulnerable patients are more likely to accept the suggestions of their healthcare provider, which can lead to unbalanced and physician-centred decisions, whether in favour of either medical or surgical treatment. In general, treatments should be symptom-orientated rather than lesion-orientated. Medical and surgical modalities appear to be similarly effective in reducing pain symptoms, with medications generally more successful for severe dysmenorrhoea and surgery more successful for severe deep dyspareunia caused by fibrotic lesions infiltrating the posterior compartment. Oestrogen-progestogen combinations and progestogen monotherapies are generally safe and well tolerated, provided there are no major contraindications. About three-quarters of patients with superficial peritoneal and ovarian endometriosis and two-thirds of those with infiltrating fibrotic lesions are ultimately satisfied with their medical treatment although the remainder may experience side effects, which may result in non-compliance. Surgery for superficial and ovarian endometriosis is usually safe. When fibrotic infiltrating lesions are present, morbidity varies greatly depending on the skill of the individual surgeon, the need for advanced procedures, such as bowel resection and ureteral reimplantation, and the availability of expert colorectal surgeons and urologists working together in a multidisciplinary approach. The generalizability of published results is adequate for medical treatment but very limited for surgery. Moreover, on the one hand, hormonal drugs induce disease remission but do not cure endometriosis, and symptom relapse is expected when the drugs are discontinued; on the other hand, the same drugs should be used after lesion excision, which also does not cure endometriosis, to prevent an overall cumulative symptom and lesion recurrence rate of 10% per postoperative year. Therefore, the real choice may not be between medical treatment and surgery, but between medical treatment alone and surgery plus postoperative medical treatment. The experience of pain in women with endometriosis is a complex phenomenon that is not exclusively based on nociception, although the role of peripheral and central sensitization is not fully understood. In addition, trauma, and especially sexual trauma, and pelvic floor disorders can cause or contribute to symptoms in many individuals with chronic pelvic pain, and healthcare providers should never take for granted that diagnosed or suspected endometriosis is always the real, or the sole, origin of the referred complaints. Alternative treatment modalities are available that can help address most of the additional causes contributing to symptoms. Pain management in women with endometriosis may be more than a choice between medical and surgical treatment and may require comprehensive care by a multidisciplinary team including psychologists, sexologists, physiotherapists, dieticians, and pain therapists. An often missing factor in successful treatment is empathy on the part of healthcare providers. Being heard and understood, receiving simple and clear explanations and honest communication about uncertainties, being invited to share medical decisions after receiving detailed and impartial information, and being reassured that a team member will be available should a major problem arise, can greatly increase trust in doctors and transform a lonely and frustrating experience into a guided and supported journey, during which coping with this chronic disease is gradually learned and eventually accepted. Within this broader scenario, patient-centred medicine is the priority, and whether or when to resort to surgery or choose the medical option remains the prerogative of each individual woman.