Endometriosis is the presence in inappropriate sites of tissue that normally lines the uterus. It can cause pain and subfertility. Different treatments for endometriosis are available, one of which is laparoscopic ('key hole') surgery, performed to remove visible areas of endometriosis. Cochrane review authors assessed the evidence on the use of laparoscopic surgery to treat pain and fertility problems in women with endometriosis. Laparoscopic surgical techniques include ablation, which means destruction of a lesion (for example by burning), and excision, which means cutting a lesion out.
We included 10 randomised controlled trials (involving 973 participants). They were conducted in Australia, Canada, Egypt, Iran and the United Kingdom. Most compared laparoscopic ablation or excision versus diagnostic laparoscopy only. Four of the 10 studies reported their source of funding. The evidence was current to July 2013.
We found that laparoscopic surgery may be of benefit in treating overall pain and subfertility associated with mild to moderate endometriosis. Laparoscopic excision and ablation were similarly effective in relieving pain, although this result came from a single study. There was insufficient evidence on adverse events to allow any conclusions to be drawn regarding safety.
Quality of the evidence
The quality of the evidence was moderate with regard to the effectiveness of laparoscopic surgery. Additional studies are needed in this field, and these should report adverse events as an outcome.
There is moderate quality evidence that laparoscopic surgery to treat mild and moderate endometriosis reduces overall pain and increases live birth or ongoing pregnancy rates. There is low quality evidence that laparoscopic excision and ablation were similarly effective in relieving pain, although there was only one relevant study. More research is needed considering severe endometriosis, different types of pain associated with endometriosis (for example dysmenorrhoea (pain with menstruation)) and comparing laparoscopic interventions with holistic and medical interventions. There was insufficient evidence on adverse events to allow any conclusions to be drawn regarding safety.
Endometriosis is the presence of endometrial glands or stroma in sites other than the uterine cavity and is associated with pain and subfertility. Surgical interventions aim to remove visible areas of endometriosis and restore the anatomy.
To assess the effectiveness and safety of laparoscopic surgery in the treatment of painful symptoms and subfertility associated with endometriosis.
This review has drawn on the search strategy developed by the Cochrane Menstrual Disorders and Subfertility Group including searching CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, and trial registries from inception to July 2013.
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) were selected in which the effectiveness and safety of laparoscopic surgery used to treat pain or subfertility associated with endometriosis was compared with any other laparoscopic or robotic intervention, holistic or medical treatment or diagnostic laparoscopy only.
Selection of studies, assessment of trial quality and extraction of relevant data were performed independently by two review authors with disagreements resolved by a third review author. The quality of evidence was evaluated using GRADE methods.
Ten RCTs were included in the review. The studies randomised 973 participants experiencing pain or subfertility associated with endometriosis. Five RCTs compared laparoscopic ablation or excision versus diagnostic laparoscopy only. Two RCTs compared laparoscopic excision versus diagnostic laparoscopy only. Two RCTs compared laparoscopic excision versus ablation. One RCT compared laparoscopic ablation versus diagnostic laparoscopy and injectable gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogue (GnRHa) (goserelin) with add-back therapy. Common limitations in the primary studies included lack of clearly-described blinding, failure to fully describe methods of randomisation and allocation concealment, and risk of attrition bias.
Laparoscopic surgery was associated with decreased overall pain (measured as ‘pain better or improved’) compared with diagnostic laparoscopy, both at six months (odds ratio (OR) 6.58, 95% CI 3.31 to 13.10, 3 RCTs, 171 participants, I2 = 0%, moderate quality evidence) and at 12 months (OR 10.00, 95% CI 3.21 to 31.17, 1 RCT, 69 participants, low quality evidence). Compared with diagnostic laparoscopy, laparoscopic surgery was also associated with an increased live birth or ongoing pregnancy rate (OR 1.94, 95% CI 1.20 to 3.16, P = 0.007, 2 RCTs, 382 participants, I2 = 0%, moderate quality evidence) and increased clinical pregnancy rate (OR 1.89, 95% CI 1.25 to 2.86, P = 0.003, 3 RCTs, 528 participants, I2 = 0%, moderate quality evidence). Two studies collected data on adverse events (including infection, vascular and visceral injury and conversion to laparotomy) and reported no events in either arm. Other studies did not report this outcome. The similar effect of laparoscopic surgery and diagnostic laparotomy on the rate of miscarriage per pregnancy was imprecise (OR 0.94, 95% CI 0.35 to 2.54, 2 studies, 112 women, moderate quality evidence).
When laparoscopic ablation was compared with diagnostic laparoscopy plus medical therapy (GnRHa plus add-back therapy), more women in the ablation group reported that they were pain free at 12 months (OR 5.63, 95% CI 1.18 to 26.85, 1 RCT, 35 participants, low quality evidence).
The difference between laparoscopic ablation and laparoscopic excision in the proportion of women reporting overall pain relief at 12 months on a VAS 0 to 10 pain scale was 0 (95% CI -1.22 to 1.22, P = 1.00, 1 RCT, 103 participants, low quality evidence).