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Surgical Technique, Roundtables

ROUNDTABLE: PART 1 OF 2: Using mesh to repair prolapse calls for more than a kit—it takes skill

Mesh augmentation isn’t right for every prolapse repair—or every surgeon. When it is called for, mesh necessitates extra training, meticulous technique, and careful selection of patients.

January 2009 · Vol. 21, No. 01


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MICKEY M. KARRAM, MD, moderator, is Director of Urogynecology at Good Samaritan Hospital and Voluntary Professor of ObGyn at the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine in Cincinnati, Ohio.

SHLOMO RAZ, MD, is Professor of Urology and Chief of Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Urology at UCLA School of Medicine in Los Angeles.

VINCENT LUCENTE, MD, MBA, is Founder and Director of the Institute for Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery in Allentown, Pa, and Clinical Professor of ObGyn at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia.

MARK D. WALTERS, MD, is Professor and Vice Chair of Gynecology, Section of Urogynecology and Reconstructive Pelvic Surgery, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.

Mesh kits for repairing prolapse are proliferating like crazy, just as they did for midurethral sling procedures. But mesh augmentation of prolapse surgeries requires more than a prepackaged assortment of tools and materials. In this article, moderator Mickey M. Karram, MD, and a panel of nationally recognized urogynecologists and urologists describe the literature on mesh augmentation and discuss indications, contraindications, techniques, applicable cases, and the considerable training required.

In Part 2, which will appear in the February issue of OBG Management, the panel tackles the thorny topic of complications, including erosion, extrusion, foreshortening of the vagina, dyspareunia, and pain. Their discussion focuses on ways to avoid these problems, and methods for correcting them.

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DR. KARRAM: To start, let’s quickly review the peer-reviewed literature on the use of mesh augmentation during surgery for pelvic organ prolapse.

DR. WALTERS: Until recently, most data concerned open abdominal sacrocolpopexy (ASC) using polypropylene or Merseline mesh. There is significant clinical experience with this operation, and multiple cohort studies show long-term cure rates of 78% to 100% for apical prolapse. 1

At least two randomized controlled trials have compared open ASC with sutured vaginal colpopexy procedures, and ASC is certainly equal to—perhaps better than—all transvaginal sutured repairs. 2,3

With ASC, most recurrences affect the distal half of the vagina and involve one or more of the following:

  • anterior or posterior vaginal wall prolapse (or both)
  • stress urinary incontinence (SUI)
  • distal rectocele. 1,3

Mesh erosion occurs in 3.4% of cases and is usually easily managed. 1 Other complications, including bowel injury, tend to be related to access, regardless of whether the operation is performed via laparotomy or laparoscopy.

Robotic sacrocolpopexy has become popular in recent years, and we will probably see data on this approach as we gain experience.

When it comes to vaginal mesh kits, the peer-reviewed literature is just beginning to expand, with many studies being presented at international meetings. For anterior and, possibly, apical vaginal prolapse, the cure rate after use of a mesh kit appears to be as high as, or higher than, the rate for sutured repairs. 4 This high rate of anatomic cure is balanced somewhat by additional cost and complications involving mesh and the kits.

For posterior vaginal wall prolapse and rectocele, I firmly believe, based on our research and that of others, that sutured repairs are superior to graft-augmented surgery. 5

When is mesh appropriate?

DR. KARRAM: What are the indications and contraindications for mesh augmentation of prolapse repair ( FIGURES 1 and 2 )?

DR. LUCENTE: I believe mesh is indicated in any patient in need of surgical repair of pelvic organ prolapse who is seeking optimal durability and is willing to accept the known risks of the surgery.

The issue becomes more complex when it comes to contraindications. Absolute contraindications are fairly obvious; they include medically unstable patients and those who may have an inactive infectious process within the pelvis or even undiagnosed abnormal uterine bleeding.

At our center, because the potential for dyspareunia and pelvic discomfort is our biggest concern, we have developed a profile of the patient who is more likely to develop these complaints. The profile includes any patient who has a chronic pain disorder of any type, but especially chronic pelvic pain disorders such as endometriosis and vulvodynia. Other risk factors appear to be a history of pelvic surgery involving any permanent material, suture or mesh, and young age.

So if we have a patient in her late 30s who has undergone reconstructive surgery using permanent sutures and who has an element of chronic pelvic pain, we would counsel her strongly to consider surgical options other than the use of synthetic mesh.

DR. WALTERS: The main indications for mesh-augmented prolapse repair are recurrent posthysterectomy vaginal vault prolapse, for which I usually perform ASC, and recurrent cystocele or anteriorapical prolapse, for which I use one of the anterior mesh kits.

I still think sutured repairs—by that, I mean uterosacral ligament or sacrospinous colpopexy with sutured rectocele repair—work best for recurrent posterior wall and posteriorapical prolapse. I don’t use mesh augmentation for rectocele.

The main contraindication to mesh augmentation, as I see it, is a history of mesh complications. If I am repairing a mesh complication such as erosion or pain, I do not place another mesh.

Medical issues that might increase mesh complications, such as diabetes, steroid use, or severe vaginal atrophy, would, at the very least, make me consider carefully whether mesh augmentation is appropriate. The literature is not clear on this, so mesh could still be used if the surgeon thinks it is necessary.

DR. KARRAM: I haven’t found a definitive indication for mesh augmentation. We have used biologic meshes empirically, but I am not convinced that they really add long-term durability, regardless of whether they are used in the anterior or posterior vaginal segment.

Our published durability rate for traditional suture-type repairs is in the range of 85% at 5 years out. 6 Even if I assumed that mesh would give me 100% 5-year durability, this rate would have to be at the expense of some erosion, pain, and other complications unique to mesh. I do not think that the potential improvement in durability is worth these potential complications.

FIGURE 1 When the pelvic support system is intact, prolapse is rare

In the normal pelvis, organs are supported by a complex web of muscles, fascia, and connective tissue.

FIGURE 2 Mesh augmentation seeks to enhance the durability of repair

One type of mesh in final position. Mesh-augmented repair restores the vaginal apex and lends support to the walls of the vagina.

Which technique is best?

DR. KARRAM: If you are doing a lot of mesh repairs, you are obviously content with the results and feel that the few complications you are seeing are outweighed by the advantages mesh confers. How do you avoid extrusion and avert creation of a painful vagina?

DR. RAZ: Most of our cases are recurrent prolapse after failed vaginal or abdominal repair. I am indeed using a significant amount of soft polypropylene mesh for reconstructive procedures. As with the use of any other synthetic material, low-grade infection can develop after a few weeks or months. I use copious irrigation with antibiotic solution during reconstruction.

To avoid extrusion, I perform deep, rather than superficial, dissection of the vaginal wall to allow for better coverage of the mesh. For posterior mesh reconstruction, I cover the mesh with pararectal fascia to prevent erosion.

For mesh-augmented procedures, I cut the mesh myself in the operating room ( FIGURE 3 ). For a sling, I use a 10 cm × 1 cm soft polypropylene mesh. For a grade 3 or 4 cystocele, I use a trapezoid of soft polypropylene mesh with several points of fixation:

  • at the sacrouterine ligament
  • lateral to the obturator fascia
  • distal to the bladder neck.

I always repair the vault at the same time.

For vault prolapse, I use a segment of soft polypropylene mesh in the shape of an apron with two arms (1 cm × 4 cm) and a central segment (4 cm × 7 cm). I support the vault using number 1-0 delayed absorbable suture and mesh. From outside the vaginal wall, in the posterolateral deep vaginal wall (inside the peritoneum), I incorporate the origin of the sacrouterine ligament and one arm of the mesh in the groove between the colon and levator ani, 15 cm from the introitus. I bring the suture 1 cm from the original entrance. A separate set of sutures brings the perirectal fascia together with the sacrouterine ligaments and perivesical fascia to close the peritoneal cavity. I tie the vault-suspension sutures, providing support to the cuff in a high posterior position (12 to 15 cm from the introitus).

In selected cases of significant recurrent rectocele, I use a rectangle of soft polypropylene mesh anchored to the origin of the sacrouterine ligament and distal to the perineal membrane. The mesh is covered by the pararectal fascia.

We have not seen vaginal, urethral, or bladder erosion in 1,800 cases of our distal urethral Prolene sling procedure using 10 cm × 1 cm soft mesh. In patients who have significant cystocele, vault prolapse, and recurrent rectocele, our vaginal erosion rate is 3%. We have never encountered rectal, bladder, or bowel perforation using our technique.

DR. LUCENTE: We often use mesh and are more than simply content with our results—we are extremely pleased, and so are our patients. Having said that, our techniques have definitely evolved over the past few years, as we’ve focused on how to decrease exposure and, more recently, optimize sexual function and vaginal comfort.

First, to avoid exposure, the most critical step is precise hydrodissection and distention of the true vesicovaginal space. This step can only be achieved through careful tactile guidance of the needle tip into the space, where it should remain while hydrodissection is performed. Always remember, sharp dissection “follows” hydrodissection. If you place the needle bevel within the vaginal wall, you will “split” the vaginal wall—as during standard colporrhaphy—which will lead to a high exposure rate.

Second, to avoid dyspareunia, it’s essential to pay close attention to POP-Q measurements, especially vaginal length, to ensure that the reconstruction restores the same length without foreshortening. This approach entails leaving the cervix in most patients who have a shorter vagina, and making sure that the mesh is secured above the ischial spine in younger, sexually active patients who have demonstrated a higher risk of postoperative deep, penetrating dyspareunia, compared with older, less sexually active patients.

Also paramount is to ensure that you have manually displaced the vagina inwardly as much as possible before deploying or setting the mesh. If you simply try to suture secure the mesh with the vagina incised open, without the ability to deploy the mesh with a closed, displaced vagina (to mimic deep penetration), it is difficult, if not impossible, to properly set the mesh for optimal comfort.

In the early days of midurethral pubovaginal slings using polypropylene, the adage was “looser is better than tighter.” This is even truer for transvaginal mesh.

DR. KARRAM: Dr. Walters, please describe your current surgical procedure of choice without mesh and explain why you haven’t adopted mesh for routine repairs.

DR. WALTERS: About 20% of my prolapse surgeries—usually for posthysterectomy or recurrent vaginal vault prolapse—involve ASC with placement of polypropylene mesh. I perform most of these cases through a Pfannenstiel incision, but I’ve also done them laparoscopically. Several of my partners perform ASC laparoscopically and robotically.

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