The choice of entry point for gynecologic laparoscopy is critical, considering that most laparoscopic injuries occur during initial entry into the abdomen. In addition, different abdominal access points may have differing utility and efficacy depending on the patient. (The overall rate of injuries to abdominal viscera and blood vessels at the time of entry is an estimated 1 per 1,000 cases.1)
The most conventional entry point for gynecologic laparoscopic surgeries has been the umbilicus, but there are contraindications to this choice and situations in which it may not be the best access site. It is important to have knowledge of alternate entry points and techniques that consider the patient’s current pathology, anatomy, and most importantly, surgical history to better facilitate a safe initial entry.
The left upper quadrant (LUQ) has been described as a preferred alternate site to the umbilicus, and some gynecologic surgeons even consider it as a routine mode of entry.2 In our practice, LUQ entry is a safe and commonly used technique that is chosen primarily based on a patient’s history of a midline vertical incision, the presence of abdominal mesh from a prior umbilical hernia repair, or repeated cesarean sections.
Our technique for LUQ entry is a modification of the traditional approach that employs Palmer’s point – the entry point described by Raoul Palmer, MD, in 1974 as 3-4 cm below the left subcostal margin at the midclavicular line.3 We choose to enter at the midclavicular level and directly under the last rib.
When the umbilicus is problematic
The umbilicus is a favored entry point not only for its operative access to pelvic structures but also because – in the absence of obesity – it has no or little subcutaneous fat and, therefore, provides the shortest distance from skin to peritoneum.
However, adhesive disease from a prior laparotomy involving the umbilicus is a risk factor for bowel injury during umbilical entry (direct trocar, Veress needle, or open technique). In a 1995 review of 360 women undergoing operative laparoscopy after a previous laparotomy, Brill et al. reported umbilical adhesions in 27% of those with prior horizontal suprapubic (Pfannenstiel) incisions, in 55% of those with prior incisions in the midline below the umbilicus, and 67% of those with prior midline incisions above the umbilicus.4
Of the 259 patients whose prior laparotomy was for gynecologic surgery (as opposed to obstetric or general surgery) adhesions were present in 70% of those who had midline incisions. (Direct injury to adherent omentum and bowel occurred during laparoscopic procedures in 21% of all women.)
Since the Brill paper, other studies have similarly reported significant adhesion rate, especially after midline incisions. For instance, one French study of patients undergoing laparoscopy reported umbilical adhesions in 51.7% of 89 patients who had previous laparotomy with a midline incision.5
Prior umbilical laparoscopy is not a risk factor for umbilical entry unless a hernia repair with mesh was performed at the umbilicus. Umbilical adhesions have been reported to occur in up to 15% of women who have had prior laparoscopic surgery, with more adhesions associated with larger trocar use (specifically 12-mm trocars).1 Still, the rate of those adhesions was very low.
Obesity is not necessarily a contraindication to umbilical entry; however, it can make successful entry more difficult, particularly in those with central obesity and a thicker layer of subcutaneous fat. It can be difficult in such cases to know when peritoneal access is achieved. Extra-long Veress needles or trocars may be needed, and it is important to enter the abdomen at a 90° angle to minimize risk to the great vessel vasculature.
LUQ entry is often a reliable alternative when central obesity is significant or when umbilical access proves to be difficult. Certainly, the subcutaneous fat layer is thinner at the LUQ than at the umbilicus, and in patients whose umbilicus is pulled very caudal because of a large pannus, the LUQ will also provide a better location for visualization of pelvic anatomy and for easier entry.
We still use umbilical entry in most patients with obesity, but if we are unsuccessful after two to three attempts, we proceed to the LUQ (barring any contraindications to this site).