Updated Endometriosis Guidelines Emphasize Less Laparoscopy, More Hormone Therapy

Heidi Splete

February 08, 2022

Updated guidelines for the management and treatment of endometriosis reflect changes in clinical practice to guide clinician and patient decision-making, according to a statement from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, which issued the guidelines in February 2022.

Although the exact prevalence of endometriosis remains unclear, estimates suggest that approximately 190 million women and adolescent girls are affected by endometriosis during their reproductive years, and women continue to suffer beyond menopause, according to the authors. Endometriosis has a significant impact on society through both direct and indirect health care costs comparable to those of type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn's disease, they noted.

The guidelines are the first update on the topic of endometriosis since 2014, and include more than 100 recommendations, according to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE). The target audience, according to the authors, is secondary and tertiary health care providers who treat women with endometriosis. The recommendations were based on research papers published up to Dec. 1, 2020.

Although most of the recent studies confirm previous ESHRE recommendations, several topics reflect significant changes in clinical practice.

Notably, laparoscopy is no longer recommended as the diagnostic gold standard, and should be used only in patients with negative imaging for whom empirical treatment was unsuccessful.

For pain management, studies support the use of GnRH antagonists as a second-line treatment, while laparoscopic uterosacral nerve ablation and presacral neurectomy are no longer included in the recommendations.

The guidelines include new information on pregnancy and fertility preservation for women with endometriosis. The Endometriosis Fertility Index (EFI) was added to support joint decision-making for women seeking pregnancy after surgery. However, the extended use of GnRH antagonist prior to assisted reproductive technology treatments to improve live birth rate is not recommended.

Endometriosis in adolescent patients is included in the guidelines for the first time, and strong recommendations include taking a careful history and using ultrasound if appropriate, but the use of serum biomarkers is not recommended for diagnosis. Strong recommendations for treatment strategies for adolescents include hormonal contraceptives or progestins as a first-line therapy.

Recommendations for managing endometriosis in menopause are more extensive than in previous guidelines and the strongest update is against the use of estrogen-only treatment in these patients. However, the guidelines continue to recommend treating women with a history of endometriosis after surgical menopause with combined estrogen-progestogen therapy "at least up to the age of natural menopause."

Expanded recommendations related to endometriosis and cancer begin with a strong recommendation for clinicians to advise women that endometriosis is not associated with a significantly higher risk of cancer overall. "Although endometriosis is associated with a higher risk of ovarian, breast, and thyroid cancers in particular, the increase in absolute risk compared with women in the general population is low," the authors wrote. Other strong recommendations include reassuring women with endometriosis of the low risk of malignancy associated with hormonal contraceptive use, and performing cancer screening according to the existing population-based guidelines without additional screening. Epidemiologic data show that complete excision of visible endometriosis may reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, but the potential benefits must be weighed against the risks of surgery, including morbidity, pain, and ovarian reserve, the authors said.

The guidelines include recommendations related to asymptomatic endometriosis, extrapelvic endometriosis, and primary prevention of endometriosis, but without major changes to the 2014 guidelines.

Guidelines Expand Strategies, but Research Gaps Remain

In 2021, an international working group of the American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists, the European Society for Gynecologic Endoscopy, ESHRE, and the World Endometriosis Society defined endometriosis as "a disease characterized by the presence of endometrium-like epithelium and/or stroma outside the endometrium and myometrium, usually with an associated inflammatory process," Mark P. Trolice, MD, director of The IVF Center, Orlando, Fla., and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Central Florida, said in an interview.

Although the current guidelines represent the second update since 2005, many unanswered questions remain, Trolice said. "There is a large diagnostic void between the onset of symptoms and the time to a reliable diagnosis averaging between 8 and 12 years," he emphasized.

Trolice noted the change of the addition of an oral GnRH antagonist, "now FDA approved for the treatment of pain associated with endometriosis," he said. However, "Extended GnRH agonist prior to ART is not recommended due to the lack of any clear benefit," he noted.

Trolice noted the inclusion of the Endometriosis Fertility Index (EFI), published in 2010, "as a useful scoring system to predict postoperative non-IVF pregnancy rates (both by natural means and IUI [intrauterine insemination]) based on patient characteristics, revised ASRM staging, and 'least function score of the adnexa.' " He agreed with the need for expanded information on the topics of endometriosis and adolescence and endometriosis and cancer.

The most important changes for clinical practice include reducing unnecessary laparoscopy and procedures without benefit, such as laparoscopic uterosacral nerve ablation and presacral neurectomy, and GnRH suppression using an oral antagonist, said Trolice. Other especially practical guidance includes the recommendation to discontinue advising patients that pregnancy will reduce symptoms of endometriosis, and to avoid prescribing estrogen-only treatment in menopause given the risk of malignant transformation of endometriosis, he said.

Another clinically useful recommendation, though not a significant update, is the need to identify extrapelvic endometriosis symptoms, such as cyclical shoulder pain, cyclical spontaneous pneumothorax, cyclical cough, or nodules that enlarge during menses, Trolice added.

Barriers to implementing the updated guidelines include lack of education of clinicians, including primary care providers, and the lack of definitive evidence for many areas, he noted.

As for additional research, more data are needed to explore the genetic, mutational, and epigenetic profile of endometriosis, and to identify biomarkers to noninvasively detect and provide a prognosis for endometriosis, and optimal methods for prevention and management, said Trolice. Other research gaps include "definitive medical and surgical treatment of endometriosis for improvement of fertility, quality of life, and reduction of pain," he noted. From a fertility standpoint, more studies are needed on "the use of ovarian tissue or oocytes cryopreservation in adolescents and adults who undergo ovarian surgery for endometriomas, and the role of the EFI as a presurgical triage tool and to predict IUI outcomes," said Trolice.

Overall, society recommendations such as these from ESHRE "serve as guides for physicians by providing evidence-based medicine and dispelling prior unproven practices so patients may receive the most effective care of endometriosis, throughout a woman's life," Trolice emphasized.

The current guideline will be considered for revision in 2025, and the full version is available on the ESHRE website.

Members of the ESHRE guideline development group received no payment for participating in the development process, although they were reimbursed for travel expenses related to guideline meetings.

Trolice had no financial conflicts to disclose and serves on the editorial advisory board of Ob.Gyn News.

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


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