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Surgical Technique

Correcting pelvic organ prolapse with robotic sacrocolpopexy

An experienced surgeon describes key steps in performing sacrocolpopexy with assistance from the robot, modeled after the open procedure, using a mesh graft

September 2011 · Vol. 23, No. 9


Recent years have seen growing recognition that adequate support of the vaginal apex is an essential component of durable surgical repair of pelvic organ prolapse.1,2 Sacrocolpopexy is now considered the gold standard for repair of Level-1 defects of pelvic support, providing excellent long-term results.3-5

A recent randomized, controlled trial demonstrated the superior efficacy of laparoscopic sacrocolpopexy to a total vaginal mesh procedure in women who have vaginal vault prolapse—further evidence that sacrocolpopexy is the procedure of choice for these patients.6

The advantages of sacrocolpopexy include:

  • reduced risk of mesh exposure, compared to insertion of vaginal mesh
  • preservation of vaginal length
  • reduced risk of re-operation for symptomatic recurrent prolapse
  • reduced risk of de novo dyspareunia secondary to contraction of mesh.

Obstacles. Although a small number of surgeons are able to accomplish sacrocolpopexy using standard laparoscopic techniques, most of these procedures are still performed by laparotomy because the extensive suturing and knot-tying present a surgical challenge. Open sacrocolpopexy has disadvantages, too, including more pain, longer recovery, and longer length of stay.7-9

With the introduction of the da Vinci robot (Intuitive Surgical), the feasibility of having more surgeons perform this operation using a reproducible, minimally-invasive technique is much greater. The steep learning curve associated with standard laparoscopy in regard to mastering intracorporeal knot-tying and suturing is greatly diminished by articulating instruments. This makes robotic sacrocolpopexy an accessible option for all gynecologic surgeons who treat women with pelvic organ prolapse.

In this article, I detail the steps—with tips and tricks from my experience—to completing an efficient robotic-assisted sacrocolpopexy—modeled exactly after the open technique—that utilizes a y-shaped polypropylene mesh graft. Included is capsule advice from OBG Management’s coding consultant on obtaining reimbursement for robotic procedures (see “ Coding tips for robotic sacrocolpopexy”).

Key points: Performing robotic sacrocolpopexy

  • Two proficient tableside assistants are needed
  • Use steep Trendelenburg to remove the bowel from the operative field
  • A fan retractor is necessary in some cases to gain access to the promontory
  • Correct identification of the sacral promontory is key
  • In the absence of haptic feedback, novice surgeons must be aware of the potential danger in dissecting too far laterally and entering the common iliac vessels
  • Y-shaped grafts should be fashioned individually
  • Know the exit point of the needle at the promontory
  • Adequate spacing between the robotic arms is essential to avoiding interference among instruments during the procedure.

Details of the procedure

1. Surgical preparation, set-up

The patient completes a bowel prep using two bottles of magnesium citrate and taking only clear liquids 1 day before surgery. Although mechanical bowel cleansing has not been shown to decrease operative morbidity, manipulation and retraction of the sigmoid colon may be easier with the bowel empty.

Perioperative antibiotics are administered 30 minutes prior to the procedure. Heparin, 5,000 U, is injected subcutaneously for thromboprophylaxis as the patient is en route to the operating suite.

The patient is placed in the dorsal lithotomy position, buttocks extending one inch over the end of the operating table. The table should be covered with egg-crate foam to avoid having her slip down while in steep Trendelenburg position.

After the patient is prepped and draped, a Foley catheter is placed into the bladder. EEA sizers (Covidien) are inserted into the vagina and rectum.

Two experienced surgical assistants are necessary:

  • One on the patient’s right side to assist with tissue retraction and introduction of suture material
  • Another seated between the patient’s legs to provide adequate vaginal and rectal manipulation during surgery.

2. Port placement, docking, and instrumentation

Pneumoperitoneum is obtained with a Veress needle. Five trocars are then placed (FIGURE 1).

Careful port placement is integral to the success of this procedure because:

  • Inadequate distance between robotic arms and the camera results in arm collisions and interference
  • Visualization and access to the sacral promontory may be compromised if the camera is inserted too low on the anterior abdominal wall
  • Bowel retraction may be compromised if the fourth arm of the robot isn’t at least 3 cm above the anterior superior iliac crest.

My experience evaluating the abdomen before trocar insertion is that at least 15 cm is required between the pubic bone and the umbilicus to rely on this landmark for locating the 12-mm camera port.10 If this distance is shorter (as it is in many obese women), insertion above the umbilicus is necessary.

An accessory 12-mm port, used to introduce sutures and the mesh graft, is placed approximately 10 cm lateral and 4 cm cephalad to the camera in the right-upper quadrant.

An 8-mm robotic port is placed in the right lower quadrant, 10 cm lateral to the accessory port and approximately 3 cm above the anterior superior iliac crest.

The third and fourth robotic arms are placed 10 cm apart in the left lower quadrant, with the fourth arm typically as far lateral as possible.

Docking. After the patient has been placed in steep Trendelenburg position and the table is locked, the robot is docked from the patient’s left side at a 45° angle to the table. Side-docking permits easy access to the vagina to 1) evaluate graft tension and 2) complete cystoscopy to ensure ureteral and bladder integrity.

TIP Take care to ensure that the spine of the robot is positioned right next to the bed at the level of the patient’s hip; driving it up too high in relation to the abdomen can compromise the mobility of the fourth arm. In addition, if the robot is not close enough to the bed, the reach of the first (right) arm may be limited.

Next, introduce monopolar scissors through the right arm; a bipolar PK Dissector (Intuitive Surgical) through the left arm; and an atraumatic bowel grasper, such as Cadiere Forceps (Intuitive Surgical), through the fourth arm.

FIGURE 1 Placement of 5 ports for robotic sacrocolpopexy
Key: C, camera; A, accessory port; 1, right arm (monopolar shears); 2, left arm (PK Dissector); 3, fourth arm (Cadiere Forceps).

3. Dissect the sacral promontory and create a retroperitoneal tunnel

With the use of a 0° scope or 30° down-scope, retract the sigmoid colon laterally using Cadiere forceps and identify the right ureter.

TIP When you attempt robotic sacrocolpopexy for the first time, it may help to identify the sacral promontory, using a standard laparoscopic instrument with haptic feedback, before you dock the robot.

Elevate the peritoneum overlying the sacral promontory and open it using monopolar cautery. Expose the fat pad that overlays the anterior longitudinal ligament and gently dissect it away (FIGURE 2; VIDEO 1). Often, the middle sacral artery is visualized; it can be coagulated using the PK Dissector if necessary.

TIP In a case in which the promontory is difficult to find, dissecting the retrorectal space is a simple way to mobilize the bowel away from the sacrum, thus exposing the promontory.

TRICK Instead of opening the peritoneum from the sacrum to the cul-de-sac, I create a retroperitoneal tunnel along that right paracolic gutter, from the promontory to just medial to the right uterosacral ligament (VIDEO 1). Doing so has three benefits:

  • It is quicker and less bloody
  • It allows the mesh to lay flat in the hollow of the sacrum when you bring the sacral arm up to the promontory
  • There is much less peritoneum to close over the mesh at the end of the procedure.

FIGURE 2 Entering the peritoneum
Open the peritoneum at the sacral promontory and dissect the fat pad. This reveals the anterior longitudinal ligament.

4. Dissect the vesicovaginal and rectovaginal spaces

Effective vaginal and rectal manipulation is critical to complete this part of the procedure safely. To gain access to the rectovaginal space, the vaginal assistant needs to push the vagina all the way in and up toward the anterior abdominal wall (the handle of the EEA sizer will be pushing hard up against the perineum) while simultaneously pushing the rectal probe downward (effectively scissoring the two apart).

From the exit point of the retroperitoneal tunnel that was created at the beginning of the case, then extend the peritoneal incision transversely in the shape of a “T” to expose the posterior vaginal wall (FIGURE 3, VIDEO 2). If indicated, dissect the rectovaginal space all the way down to the perineal body.

Deviate the vagina posteriorly to facilitate dissection of the bladder from the anterior vaginal wall. Use sharp dissection with scissors and short bursts of energy with monopolar cautery.

TIP If you encounter significant scarring between the bladder and vagina, retrograde-fill the bladder with 300 mL of saline mixed with methylene blue dye to identify the surgical plane.

Expose approximately 4 to 6 cm of anterior vaginal wall, depending on the degree of anterior vaginal wall prolapse. Try to leave the peritoneum intact at the apex of the vagina to reduce the chance that mesh will erode.

FIGURE 3 The peritoneal incision
Extend the peritoneal incision along the cul-de-sac to the posterior vaginal wall in a T-shaped configuration to gain access the rectovaginal space. When perorming cervicosacropexy, it is easiest to develop this surgical plane before amputating the cervix.

5. Attach the y-mesh to the vagina

Several mesh options exist: IntePro (American Medical Systems), Alyte (Bard Medical), and Restorelle Y (Mpathy Medical) are preformed Type-1 polypropylene mesh products. A correctly sized mesh can easily be fashioned by suturing together two strips of Gynemesh (Ethicon) that are approximately 3 cm wide.

Because there can be significant variability in the relative dimensions of the anterior and posterior segments of mesh, I recommend fashioning the graft after dissection is complete: When posterior wall prolapse is extensive, for example, preformed y-mesh strips may not be long enough to reach all the way down to the perineal body. After having assessed the differences in graft placement and manipulation when the two arms are sutured together 1) before the grafts are placed intracorporeally and 2) after they are placed, I’ve concluded that the first method—suturing before placement—is far easier.

Introduce the mesh graft through the accessory port after exchanging the scissors and PK dissector for a suture cutter and a large needle driver. Retract the bladder using the fourth arm, and place the anterior mesh arm over the anterior vaginal wall; suture it in place using 2-0 Gore-Tex sutures on CT-2 needles that are each cut to 6 inches long.

For greatest efficiency, anchor the two distal corners first (FIGURE 4; VIDEO 3), then place a series of interrupted stitches towards the vaginal apex. Tie the knots using 2 surgeon’s knots, followed by 2 half-hitches. Attempt to achieve healthy bites through the vaginal muscularis without perforating the epithelium.

FIGURE 4 Suturing the mesh graft to the vaginal wall
Left and right: Suture the y-shaped polypropylene mesh graft to the anterior vaginal wall first, starting at the distal corners. The bladder is retracted cephalad using the fourth arm.After you’ve adequately secured the anterior mesh arm, deviate the vagina anteriorly and drape the posterior mesh arm over the posterior vaginal wall with the assistance of the fourth robotic arm that can hold upward traction on the sacral end of the mesh graft. Starting at the vaginal apex, place 6 to 8 interrupted sutures to secure the mesh to the posterior vaginal wall (FIGURE 5; VIDEO 4). If necessary, exchange the 0° scope for a 30° up-scope so that you can fully visualize the rectovaginal space.

FIGURE 5 Attachment of the posterior arm of the mesh
The fourth arm of the robot provides upward traction on the sacral portion of the mesh graft.

6. Attach the graft to the sacrum

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