Vasovasostomy and Vasoepididymostomy Treatment & Management

Updated: Dec 21, 2016
  • Author: Jacob C Parke, MD; Chief Editor: Edward David Kim, MD, FACS  more...
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Treatment

Approach Considerations

Surgical Skill

Important to the consideration of vasectomy reversal is the experience of the surgeon involved. One study found that surgeons performing >15 VV per year had significantly greater patency rates than a surgeon performing 7</ref> [9]  Ideally, the surgeon should be prepared to perform either a VV or VE, depending on the intra-operative findings. Despite the fact that nomograms exist for predicting which patients will be best served with VV, certain men will still require the more technically challenging VE. [8]  

Obstructive Interval (OI)

Obstructive interval (time from vasectomy to VR) is an important factor of VR success. Earlier studies on this front had demonstrated precipitous decrease in reversal success when performed 10 years after vasectomy. [10] Similarly, another study found significantly higher patency rates when reversals were performed 10 years (89% vs 75%). [11] More recently, a handful of studies have demonstrated similar patency rates amongst men with an OI of ~15 years; however, the need to perform VE became increasingly more likely. [7] This observation was backed by two studies from Magheli and colleagues, as well as Fuchs et al, citing the need for VE in men with an OI of >15 years at 52% and 62%, respectively. [12, 13]  

Partner Age

Perhaps the most important factor determining the success of VR is the age of the patient's partner. It is well known that female fertility declines with age due to depleting oocyte numbers and chromosomal abnormalities of the ones remaining. A study performed by Gerrard et al. demonstrated similar patency rates (83%-90%) among patients, however, the pregnancy rates for their female partners were 14% for those >40 years of age and 56% for those 14 </ref>This finding reinforces the importance of partner age on future fertility rates and how age >40 significantly decreases the chances of successful pregnancy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Preoperative Details

Both vasovasostomy and vasoepididymostomy are performed in an outpatient setting. Uncomplicated vasovasostomies take 2-3 hours and are often performed under local anesthesia with mild sedation. Vasoepididymostomies may take up to 4 hours; therefore, an epidural block or general anesthesia is appropriate. For both procedures, a broad-spectrum antibiotic is administered 30 minutes prior to surgery.

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Intraoperative Details

Vasovasostomy

A 2-cm vertical scrotal incision is made over the prior vasectomy site, and the vas deferens is mobilized. Exposing the epididymis is unnecessary; in fact, this may lead to postoperative adhesions that could further complicate a subsequent vasoepididymostomy. Care is taken to mobilize an adequate vasal length to ensure a tension-free anastomosis and to retain the perivasal vessels to allow for a well-vascularized anastomosis, thus avoiding ischemia with resultant stenosis. The presence of a sperm granuloma has been associated with better grades of sperm quality in the vas but has not been associated with better postoperative results.

The video below depicts a vasovasostomy.

Vasectomy reversal. Video courtesy of Dennis G Lusaya, MD, and Edgar V Lerma, MD.

The vas deferens is incised above and below the prior vasectomy site. It is then gently dilated with fine forceps and irrigated with a 24F Angiocath to verify patency. Fluid is collected from the proximal vas and microscopically examined for spermatozoa and their components. If spermatozoa or any sperm components are seen, vasovasostomy is performed. If no spermatozoa are seen, vasoepididymostomy is considered. The presence of spermatozoa is associated with the best prognosis for future fertility, although clear fluid without spermatozoa also portends a good outcome. The obstructive interval can also be factored into the decision, as the chance for epididymal obstruction increases with increasing time since the vasectomy. If available, sperm is cryopreserved in case the reconstruction fails.

It is generally accepted that the results of vasovasostomy are better after microsurgical rather than macrosurgical anastomosis, although some surgeons still report favorable results using macrosurgical techniques. Regardless, various methods have been described for performing the vasovasostomy anastomosis, depending on the degree of magnification (loupes, microscope) and the type of procedure (modified 1-layer vs formal 2-layer procedure).

The authors prefer the formal 2-layer anastomosis (see image below) performed under microscopic magnification, anastomosed to either the straight or convoluted vas. First, 9-0 nylon seromuscular sutures are placed in the posterior end of the vas at the 5- and 7-o'clock positions. Six interrupted 10-0 nylon mucosal sutures are then placed to approximate the luminal ends of the deferens. Finally, 4 additional 9-0 nylon seromuscular sutures complete the second layer of the anastomosis.

Vasovasostomy formal two-layer technique: (A) 9-0 Vasovasostomy formal two-layer technique: (A) 9-0 nylon seromuscular sutures are placed in the posterior end of the vas at the 5- and 7-o'clock positions. (B) Six interrupted 10-0 nylon mucosal sutures are then placed to approximate the luminal ends of the deferens. (C) Finally, 4 additional 9-0 nylon seromuscular sutures complete the second layer of the anastomosis.

The modified 1-layer vasovasostomy (see image below) represents a viable alternative technique to the formal 2-layer anastomosis. While it does not allow as precise a mucosal realignment, the procedure is technically less demanding, requires less magnification, and produces comparable outcomes. A 9-0 nylon suture is passed through the entire vas wall, traveling full thickness through both ends. Two 8-0 nylon seromuscular sutures are placed on either side of the 9-0 suture. This pattern is repeated in each quadrant of the anastomosis, resulting in a total of 4 luminal sutures and 8 seromuscular sutures.

Vasovasostomy modified one-layer technique: (A) A Vasovasostomy modified one-layer technique: (A) A 9-0 nylon suture is passed through the entire vas wall, traveling full thickness through both ends. (B) Two 8-0 nylon seromuscular sutures are placed on either side of the 9-0 suture. (C) This pattern is repeated in each quadrant of the anastomosis, resulting in a total of 4 luminal sutures and 8 seromuscular sutures.

During the procedure, care is taken to prevent thermal damage to the vas, and only bipolar cautery or ophthalmic cautery is used to stop adventitial bleeding. Cautery is never used on the opposing transected ends of the vas.

Vasoepididymostomy

The results of vasoepididymostomy are better with microsurgical rather than macrosurgical anastomosis. Because it is often impossible to determine preoperatively if a vasoepididymostomy will be required, the surgeon should be prepared to perform whichever is necessary in a patient undergoing vasectomy reversal.

A vertical scrotal incision is made, slightly longer than that used for a vasovasostomy to allow for delivery of the testis, epididymis, and vas deferens. The vas deferens is isolated on the medial side of the spermatic cord and mobilized to the most proximal normal area, preferably the convoluted tubule. The vas deferens is then transected and tunneled through the spermatic cord structures to be positioned adjacent to the epididymis.

Using the operating microscope, the epididymis is examined for any obvious site of obstruction. If no such area is identified, the tunica albuginea of the epididymal tail is incised, and gentle pressure is applied to extrude a single epididymal tubule. This tubule is then sharply unroofed and the expressed fluid examined for sperm. If no sperm are found, this process is repeated more proximally until sperm are found. It is important to perform the anastomosis at the most caudal level at which sperm are present in the epididymal tubule in order to maximize the likelihood of postoperative fertility.

While several types of vasoepididymal anastomosis have been described, the authors prefer the end-to-side technique described by Thomas (see image below). [15] Two 9-0 nylon sutures are used to secure the seromuscular layer of the vas to the epididymal tunic. Four 10-0 nylon sutures are then placed to secure the mucosa of the vas to the epididymal tubule. Finally, six to eight 9-0 nylon sutures are used to secure the seromuscular layer of the vas to the epididymal tunic.

Vasoepididymostomy end-to-side technique: (A) Two Vasoepididymostomy end-to-side technique: (A) Two 9-0 nylon sutures are used to secure the seromuscular layer of the vas to the epididymal tunic. (B) Four 10-0 nylon sutures are then placed to secure the mucosa of the vas to the epididymal tubule. (C) Finally, six to eight 9-0 nylon sutures are used to secure the seromuscular layer of the vas to the epididymal tunic.

Intussusception vasoepididymal anastomotic techniques provide a potentially easier approach to standard suture vasoepididymostomy. First described in the early 1990s, the intussusception technique has been described both in end-to-end and end-to-side anastomoses, with patency and granuloma rates that are comparable or superior to those of standard anastomoses. The triangulation intussusception vasoepididymostomy was first described by Berger. In this technique, the epididymal tunic is sutured to the muscularis of the vas. Three double-arm sutures are then placed in the distended epididymal tubule. The epididymal tubule is then opened and sutures are placed in the corresponding positions in the vas lumen. Later, Marmar introduced the two-suture intussusception, which has also shown promising results.

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Postoperative Details

Following the procedure, the patient is discharged after recovering from anesthesia. He may return to work 3 days after the procedure. While showering is allowed within 2 days of surgery, the patient should not soak the incisions under water until 2 weeks postsurgery to avoid premature dissolution of the absorbable skin sutures. Nonstrenuous exercise may be resumed within a week after the procedure, and strenuous activities, such as jogging, may be resumed after 3 weeks. Patients are instructed to refrain from postsurgical sexual activity for a full month.

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Follow-up

The patient returns to the office for a wound check in 7 days. A semen analysis is obtained 3 months postsurgery. In patients who have undergone vasoepididymostomy, the anastomosis is often slow to function. In this population, semen analyses are repeated quarterly for a year or until sperm are present.

If no sperm are present by 18 months postsurgery, the operation is considered a failure, and patient is advised about the alternatives (ie, repeat procedure, sperm extraction with in vitro fertilization [IVF], donor insemination, adoption). Failure typically represents an anastomotic scar, which occurs in 3%-12% of patients after vasovasostomy and 21% after vasoepididymostomy.

If the patient develops normal semen concentrations postoperatively and his wife does not conceive, consideration should be given to antisperm antibodies on the surface of the sperm.

Repeat surgical reconstructions with vasoepididymostomies and vasovasostomies can be performed, but these are technically more demanding because of extensive scarring and should be undertaken only by an experienced microsurgeon. With that caveat, the success rates for these procedures are comparable to those of initial reconstructions.

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Complications

Hematoma, infection, and testicular atrophy are the main complications of both procedures. Hematoma is largely preventable by careful attention to hemostasis throughout the dissection. The authors’ practice is to close the incision in 2 separate layers, with the first consisting of the tunica vaginalis and dartos muscle and the second consisting of the dermal edges. In this way, hematomas that can plague scrotal surgery have been avoided.

Testicular atrophy remains the most dreaded complication. Atrophy results from injury to the internal spermatic artery as it traverses through the spermatic cord. In most cases, this is avoidable by careful dissection of the vas away from the adjacent cord. In addition, this injury can occur in patients receiving vasoepididymostomies if great care is not taken when the vas is tunneled through the spermatic cord and placed in proximity to the epididymis.

The most common cause of operative failure is stenosis at the site of the vasovasostomy. The delayed closure rate of initially patent anastomoses is 3%-6% per year for vasovasostomies. An aggressive vasectomy resulting in a long segment of vas removal may necessitate greater mobilization of vas, in turn leading to a greater potential for devascularization, fibrosis, and stenosis.

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Outcome and Prognosis

Vasovasostomy

Predictive models have been described to predict which patients will ultimately require a vasoepididymostomy based on the duration of obstruction and the patient’s age. As shown in Table 2 (see image below), experienced hands can obtain patency rates in excess of 90% and pregnancy rates of more than 50%.

Table 2. Microsurgical Vasovasostomy Table 2. Microsurgical Vasovasostomy

The following 3 factors portend the best surgical outcomes:

  • The interval since the vasectomy was performed is one important factor. The Vasovasostomy Study Group, the largest multicenter group to assess vasovasostomy efficacy, found that an interval of less than 3 years resulted in patency rates of 97% and pregnancy rates of 76%. An interval exceeding 15 years resulted in patency and pregnancy rates of 71% and 30%, respectively. [16]  A study by Grober et al analyzed the vasectomy reversal outcomes specifically among patients with vasal obstructive intervals of greater than 10 years. The study concluded that although the interval since vasectomy has a significant effect on the type of vasectomy reversal required, provided a surgeon is proficient in both microsurgical vasovasostomy and vasoepididymostomy, favorable semen parameters and patency and pregnancy rates can be achieved in men with a vasal obstructive intervals greater than 10 years. [17]

  • A second important factor is the microsurgical experience level of the surgeon. Performing the procedure without any magnification (ie, the macroscopic vasovasostomy) yields significantly inferior surgical results, with pregnancy rates ranging from 19%-55%. When the microsurgical technique is used, the success rates are markedly improved, regardless of whether the modified 1-layer or formal 2-layer anastomosis is used.

  • Lastly, the presence of sperm and the quality of the fluid from the proximal vas is predictive of surgical success. Patency rates in men with sperm in the proximal vas fluid at the time of vasovasostomy exceed 90%, compared to pregnancy rates of 60% in men without sperm in the proximal vas. In the setting of no sperm in the vasal fluid, clear fluid predicts a higher success rate than thick opalescent fluid. A study by Scovell et al concluded that the presence of whole sperm or sperm parts in the vasal fluid during vasectomy reversal is positively associated with postoperative patency. [18]

Vasoepididymostomy

Vasoepididymostomy yields patency rates of 58%-85% and pregnancy rates of 11%-56%.

While the level of epididymal anastomosis does not affect patency rates, pregnancy rates are highest with the most distal epididymal anastomosis (cauda) because of the important sperm maturation that occurs during transit through the epididymis.

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Future and Controversies

Several investigators have attempted to use fewer sutures, augmented by fibrin glue or laser soldering for both vasovasostomy and vasoepididymostomy procedures, allowing for a shorter operative time. In addition, robotics have been used for both vasovasostomies and vasoepididymostomies, with the hope that it may help with microsurgical technical issues, including eliminating tremor and improving dexterity with microsurgical instruments. While these techniques are not the current clinical standard, they appear to yield similar patency rates and may represent alternatives for the surgeon who performs only an occasional vasectomy reversal.

Patients are counseled about the realistic expectations for success after vasovasostomy and vasoepididymostomy. Sperm cryopreservation is offered to all patients at the time of reconstruction.

Patients who have undergone vasectomy have been shown to have a higher prevalence of antisperm antibodies and elevations in reactive oxygen species. After vasectomy reversal is performed, the elevation in reactive oxygen species may persist, contributing to infertility after vasectomy reversal. The role for anti-inflammatory medications to prevent this is currently under investigation.

The main controversy with surgical bypass procedures of the genital tract relates to advances in sperm extraction and assisted reproduction techniques. Since its advent by Palermo in 1992, [19] intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) has revolutionized the treatment of obstructive and nonobstructive azoospermia. With the success of this technique, some authorities have questioned the need for vasovasostomy and vasoepididymostomy procedures altogether. Since all patients who undergo these procedures undergo sperm extraction and cryopreservation, these samples are available for patients who have azoospermia after their procedure.

Despite advances, cost and safety issues favor surgical reconstruction over sperm extraction with ICSI. Cost analyses of vasovasostomy versus intrauterine insemination (IUI) or IVF shows a cost benefit for the former in terms of pregnancy rates, provided that patency rates exceed 79%. Similarly, a cost analysis by Kolettis and Thomas (1997) showed a significant cost advantage for vasoepididymostomy over ICSI. [20]

Vasectomy reversal should be considered the ideal option (1) when the interval since the vasectomy is less than 15 years and (2) in couples who desire more than one child. IVF may be considered in couples with an older female partner or in whom bilateral vasoepididymostomy may be required.

The safety concerns associated with ICSI, including ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, an increased risk of multiple births, and a theoretical increased likelihood of fetal malformations (eg, hypospadias), further supports the selection of surgical reconstruction.

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