Ultrasonographic evaluation of the endometrium in postmenopausal vaginal bleeding

Katharine G Davidson, Theodore J Dubinsky
Radiologic Clinics of North America 2003, 41 (4): 769-80
Transvaginal ultrasound with SIS is a cost-minimizing screening tool for perimenopausal and postmenopausal women with vaginal bleeding. Its use decreases the need for invasive diagnostic procedures for women without abnormalities, and ultrasound increases the sensitivity of detecting abnormalities in women with pathologic conditions. Vaginal sonography is preferred over uniform biopsy of postmenopausal women with vaginal bleeding because it (1) is a less invasive procedure, (2) is generally painless, (3) has no complications, and (4) may be more sensitive for detecting carcinoma than blind biopsy. Transvaginal sonography is rarely nondiagnostic. Endometrial sampling is less successful in women with a thin endometrial stripe on ultrasound than in women with real endometrial pathologic condition. A limitation of ultrasound is that an abnormal finding is not specific: ultrasound cannot always reliably distinguish between benign proliferation, hyperplasia, polyps, and cancer. Although ultrasound may not be able to distinguish between hyperplasia and malignancy, the next step in the clinical treatment requires tissue sampling. Because of the risk of progression of complex hyperplasia to carcinoma, patients with this finding may benefit from hormonal suppression, dilatation and curettage, endometrial ablation, or hysterectomy, depending on the clinical scenario. The inability to distinguish these two entities based on ultrasound alone should not be seen as a limitation because tissue sampling is required in either case. Occasionally (in 5% to 10% of cases), a woman's endometrium cannot be identified on ultrasound, and these women also need further evaluation. Ultrasonography also may be used as a first-line investigation in other populations with abnormal uterine bleeding. In a multicenter, randomized, controlled trial of 400 women with abnormal uterine bleeding, the investigators found that transvaginal sonography combined with Pipelle endometrial biopsy and outpatient hysteroscopy was as effective as inpatient hysteroscopy and curettage. The subject, included women older than 35 years with PMB, menorrhagia, intermenstrual bleeding, postcoital bleeding, or irregular menses. Transvaginal sonography may be a cost-effective. sensitive, and well-tolerated method to evaluate most women with abnormal bleeding in combination with physical examination and endometrial biopsy and hysteroscopy us indicated. Hysteroscopy is likely to become the new gold standard in the future because of its ability to visualize directly the endometrium and perform directed biopsies as indicated. As office-based hysteroscopy becomes more practical and widespread, the technique may become more cost effective. An evaluation plan using transvaginal sonography as the initial screening evaluation followed by endometrial biopsy or, more likely, hysteroscopy is likely to become the standard of care (Fig. 12). It remains unproven whether certain patients at higher risk for carcinoma should proceed directly to invasive evaluation. Women on tamoxifen with persistent recurrent bleeding, women with significant risk factors for carcinoma, and women with life-threatening hemorrhage comprise this group. Further studies are still necessary to evaluate high-risk patients and determine whether ultrasound or biopsy is really the most cost-effective initial test.

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