Pelvic exenteration is a demanding, yet potentially curative operation, for patients with advanced pelvic cancer. The majority will present with recurrence after prior surgery and radiotherapy. After exenteration, 5-year survival is 40% to 60% in patients with gynecologic cancer as compared to 25% to 40% for patients with colorectal cancer. Physiologic age and absence of co-morbidities appear to be more important when selecting patients for exenteration than chronological age. Careful pre-operative staging, including either computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), usually will identify patients with distant metastases, extrapelvic nodal disease, or disease involving the pelvic sidewall (which generally precludes surgery). The recent application of intra-operative radiotherapy or postoperative high-dose brachytherapy for patients with more advanced pelvic disease, which may include sidewall involvement, may expand the standard indications for exenteration. However, the intent of this procedure, with or without radiotherapy, should be resection of all tumor with the aim of cure since the place of palliative exenteration is controversial at best. The operative details of exenteration are presented, as are two surgical approaches to composite resection of pelvic structures in continuity with sacrectomy. Filling the pelvis with large tissue flaps, usually a rectus abdominus flap, has decreased morbidity rates, particularly with small bowel complications. Peri-operative mortality is usually 5% to 10%, and significant morbidity occurs in over 50% of patients. Restorative techniques for both urinary and gastrointestinal tracts can diminish the need for stomas and, along with vaginal reconstruction, can significantly improve quality of life for many patients after exenteration. These advances in surgery and radiotherapy help make the procedure a viable option for patients with otherwise incurable pelvic malignancy.
Copyright 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.