Who has a more successful outcome from her bladder lift surgery? Is it the woman who is undergoing it for the first time, or is it the woman who is undergoing it for the second time? Reason would dictate that if a woman needs a corrective surgery for the second time because the first failed, the likelihood of success the second time would be lower. In addition, are there underlying risk factors that lead to bladder drop (cystocele) in the first place that may lead to recurrent bladder drop no matter how many times the surgery is done? If this is the case, is there anything that can be done to prevent or at least reduce recurrence rates to lower repeated surgeries?
To demonstrate this dilemma, a recent paper from Cleveland Clinic-Florida was published looking at the success rates of cystocele repair in women undergoing it for the first time, vs. those undergoing it for the second time. The “in-between-the lines” question to be asked from reading this research is how to try to prevent women from having a recurrence after their first surgery so there is potentially no subsequent surgery.
The results from the study are a bit depressing. After one year, the group of women undergoing surgery for the second time (group I) and the group of women undergoing surgery for the first time (group II), had the following success rates at one year:
Group I: 18/23 or 78.2 percent (“second timers”)
Group II: 17/21 or 81 percent (“first timers”)
You may say to yourself, these groups are nearly the same, without significant difference. That’s good, right? The real story here is why are 20 percent of women developing recurrence in either group just one year after reconstructive bladder surgery?
Now let’s evaluate their results at two years:
Group I (“second timers”) 9/21 (2 lost to follow up) or 42.8 percent
Group II (“first timers”) 15/21 or 71.4 percent
What are we to make of these worsening results?
These results are actually in line and consistent with published data about how bladder surgery commonly fails within the first one to four years post-operatively. In fact, failure rates are actually between 40-70 percent.
The authors of the study (rightly) conclude that if a woman has recurrence of her bladder drop and requires another surgery, then just “fixing it” again using the same technique that failed the first time will not give good results. A different technique would be required and is logical to prevent a second recurrence.
In addition, the real question is what can be done at the time of the first surgery in order to lower recurrence and avoid a second surgery in the first place?
These seem like obvious questions to be asked, but in terms of surgical success rates, the obvious needs to be often pointed out. What looks good at one year, may not be good at two years, and so forth. In addition, when we look back on surgical data and outcomes, we may only able to draw a conclusion retrospectively that we could not draw looking forward, prospectively. Our knowledge base grows as different procedures are developed and patient outcomes are followed over time. The ideal are the ones with the least risk going in, and good outcomes post-operatively. As any worker in the health care field can attest, there is no ideal, and failures always exist, even for well done cases.
The bladder is the most common site of recurrence of all vaginal/pelvic floor defects, whether it’s the bladder operated on, or another pelvic organ. This has to do with its position in the pelvis, where it’s most subject to repetitive force/pressure.
Developing an enduring repair is the “holy grail” of pelvic floor surgery, and many things have been introduced, such as tissue or mesh grafts, to strengthen these surgeries. These have been shown to have lower failure rates, but many factors go into proper use of these materials in patients, and come with their own inherent risks. These would include:
Is the intended surgery appropriate for the patient?
Is the intended graft (tissue or mesh) appropriate for the patient?
Is the surgeon knowledgeable about the material and experienced in its use?
Can the surgeon deal with any complications that may arise?
Are there patient factors that increase risk of recurrence after surgery?