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Can We Accurately Diagnose Endometriosis Without A Diagnostic Laparoscopy?

Can We Accurately Diagnose Endometriosis without a Diagnostic Laparoscopy?

Camran Nezhat, MD1, 2; Shruti Agarwal, DO1, 2

Camran Nezhat Institute, Center for Special Minimally Invasive and Robotic Surgery, Palo Alto, CA

Endometriosis is an estrogen-dependent, progressive chronic inflammatory disease that affects approximately 6-10% of reproductive age women, and over 200 million women worldwide1. It has been reported in every organ in the human body, with clinically significant extragenital endometriosis leading to genitourinary, gastrointestinal, thoracic, and/or nervous system dysfunction. Affected women can present with non-menstrual pelvic and abdominal pain, dysmenorrhea, dyspareunia, ovulatory pain, dyschezia, and/or changes to bowel or bladder function which can be exacerbated during ovulation or menses. One can also see extragenital symptoms like shoulder pain with diaphragmatic endometriosis; chest pain, hemoptysis and lung collapse in cases of pulmonary endometriosis, upper abdominal pain with pancreatic endometriosis and lumbar pain with sciatic nerve endometriosis2-5. The severity of symptoms can vary from debilitating to mild, with up to 25% of women being completely asymptomatic6. Endometriosis in some women may only present with unexplained infertility, with an increased suspicion arising only after multiple failed in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments.

Endometriosis is in fact a leading cause of unexplained infertility, accounting for up to 50 – 80% of women7. Some theories that can explain how endometriosis can affect fertility include abnormal utero-tubal transport, ovulatory dysfunction, dyssynchronous oocyte maturation, altered cell-mediated immunity, distorted pelvic anatomy, decreased oocyte quality, and altered endometrial receptivity8. Currently, altered endometrial receptivity and progesterone resistance describe the leading mechanisms behind endometriosis-related implantation failure. Adequate progesterone levels and endometrial receptor expression are needed for embryo implantation, endometrial stabilization and maintenance of pregnancy; any mechanism that interferes with progesterone signaling can cause implantation failure9-12.

Endometriosis has been associated with aberrant humoral and cellular immunity12. B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia/lymphoma 6 (BCL-6) is a protein encoded by a proto-oncogene present on chromosome 3 (3q27.3) that stimulates inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-6 (IL-6), IL-8, and IL-17 in the peritoneal fluid of women with endometriosis. In the endometrium, BCL-6 forms a complex that binds to and inactivates regulators of the progesterone pathway, leading to progesterone resistance, implantation failure, aberrant decidualization, and recurrent miscarriages in women with endometriosis8, 10-14.

The gold standard for the diagnosis of endometriosis is still a surgical diagnosis consisting of laparoscopy with or without histologic confirmation. This can prove to be difficult when endometriomas are involved as different subtypes of endometriomas are treated differently in patients desiring to preserve fertility. Type I endometriomas arise from implanted endometrial-like tissue on the ovarian cortex (Figure 1-3). To minimize adverse effects on ovarian reserve and fertility, these are treated by brushing or washing off the lesions. Type II endometriomas arise from functional cysts that are invaded by endometrial-like implants. When less than 50% invasion is involved, excision can be performed successfully without compromising ovarian reserve19-22.

Recently there has been increased development of noninvasive screening and diagnostic tests to accurately identify patients with endometriosis14. A screening test for endometriosis called ReceptivaDx (CiceroDx, Huntington Beach, CA) has been developed to detect endometrial BCL-6 overexpression in asymptomatic women with unexplained infertility or recurrent pregnancy loss15. This test also detects beta-3 integrin expression, a cell adhesion molecule integral to successful implantation11, 13. Positive endometrial BCL-6 testing, defined as an HSCORE >1.4, has been associated with recurrent miscarriages and poor IVF outcomes13, 16-17. An improvement in subsequent live birth rates was seen (LBR) (50 –76%) when compared to controls (7.4%) when the underlying cause of endometrial inflammation secondary to endometriosis was treated. In this study, 93.8% of patients that tested positive for BCL-6 had laparoscopic findings of endometriosis15. A recent retrospective study by Camran Nezhat et. al. on reproductive age females going through IVF treatment with endometrial BCL-6 overexpression who underwent laparoscopic surgery for treatment of suspected endometriosis showed that three-quarters of patients (74.7%, n = 56) had a histologically confirmed diagnosis, while 21.3% were diagnosed visually through the presence of ovarian endometriotic implants (n= 16). Women with at least 6 months of postoperative follow-up were assessed for reproductive outcomes (n = 40), resulting in a clinical pregnancy rate (CPR) of 90.0%. The PPV of BCL-6 testing was found to be as high as 96% for the diagnosis of endometriosis, similar to previously reported rates15, 18.

According to ASRM, approximately 50% of patients with unexplained infertility having endometriosis8. Although women diagnosed with unexplained infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss do not typically seek surgical diagnosis of endometriosis, persistent endometriosis could affect the success rate of IVF. Testing for endometrial BCL-6 may help determine which patients are high risk for endometriosis and other inflammatory pathologies and may need counseling for surgical treatment. Endometrial BCL-6 testing has a high PPV that could help guide physicians and patients undergoing infertility treatment to consider surgical evaluation for endometriosis, which may assist in achieving successful reproductive outcomes18.


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