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Is a Pelvic Examination Necessary 6 Weeks After Hysterectomy?

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Doctors commonly perform pelvic examinations approximately 6 weeks following hysterectomy to assess the integrity of the vaginal cuff. But this practice may not be necessary if patients do not have symptoms, a study suggests.

“The 6-week posthysterectomy pelvic examination in asymptomatic women may not be necessary, as it neither detected cuff dehiscence nor negated future risk for dehiscence,” Ritchie Mae Delara, MD, said at the meeting sponsored by AAGL, held virtually this year.

Delara, of the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, and colleagues conducted a retrospective cohort study of data from more than 2,000 patients to assess the utility of the 6-week posthysterectomy pelvic examination in detecting cuff dehiscence in asymptomatic women.

An Unpredictable Complication

Vaginal cuff dehiscence is a rare complication of hysterectomy that can occur days or decades after surgery, which makes “identifying an optimal time for cuff evaluation difficult,” Delara said. “Currently there is neither evidence demonstrating benefit of routine posthysterectomy examination in detecting vaginal cuff dehiscence, nor data demonstrating the best time to perform posthysterectomy examination.”

For their study, which was also published in the Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynecology, the researchers examined data from 2,051 women who underwent hysterectomy at a single institution during a 6-year period. Patients received at least one postoperative evaluation within 90 days of surgery. Examination of the vaginal cuff routinely was performed approximately 6 weeks after hysterectomy. Patients’ posthysterectomy symptoms and pelvic examination findings were recorded.

About 80% of patients were asymptomatic at the 6-week visit.

Asymptomatic patients were more likely to have normal pelvic examination findings, compared with patients with posthysterectomy symptoms (86.4% vs. 54.3%).

In all, 13 patients experienced complete cuff dehiscence. All of them had an intact vaginal cuff at their 6-week examination. Three had symptoms at that time, including vaginal bleeding in one patient and pelvic pain in two patients.

One patient experienced a complete cuff dehiscence that was provoked by intercourse prior to her examination. The patient subsequently developed two additional episodes of dehiscence provoked by intercourse.

Dehiscence may present differently after benign and oncologic hysterectomies, the study indicated.

Eight patients who experienced complete cuff dehiscence after benign hysterectomy had symptoms such as pelvic pain and vaginal bleeding at the time of presentation for dehiscence, which mainly occurred after intercourse.

Five patients who experienced dehiscence after oncologic hysterectomy were more likely to present without symptoms or provocation.

The median time to dehiscence after benign hysterectomy was about 19 weeks, whereas the median time to dehiscence after oncologic hysterectomy was about 81 weeks.

Surgeons should educate patients about symptoms of dehiscence and the potential for events such as coitus to provoke its occurrence, and patients should promptly seek evaluation if symptoms occur, Delara said.

Patients with risk factors such as malignancy may benefit from continued routine evaluation, she added.

Timely Research

The findings may be especially relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, when states have issued shelter-in-place orders and doctors have increased their use of telemedicine to reduce in-person visits, Delara noted.

In that sense, the study is “extremely timely” and may inform and support practice changes, commented Emad Mikhail, MD, in a discussion following the research presentation.

Whether the results generalize to other centers, including smaller centers that perform fewer surgeries, is unclear, said Mikhail, of the University of South Florida, Tampa.

“It takes vision and critical thinking to challenge these traditional practices,” he said. “I applaud Delara for challenging one of these.”

Delara and Mikhail had no relevant disclosures.

SOURCE: Delara RMM et al. J Minim Invasive Gynecol. 2020 Nov 1. doi: 10.1016/j.jmig.2020.08.306.

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

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