Surgical outcomes of vesicovaginal fistulae in patients with previous pelvic radiotherapy


Introduction and hypothesis

Vesicovaginal fistulae (VVF) repair success rates for simple surgical fistulae are high, but constitute a significantly greater challenge when occurring in a radiotherapy field. We aim to evaluate the causes, assessment, closure rates and functional outcomes of VVF surgery in patients with previous radiotherapy.


Data on all VVF repairs were collected prospectively. A retrospective review of outcomes in those with VVF performed between 2009 and 2018 was carried out. Details including time from radiotherapy, pre-operative assessments, approach to surgery and functional outcome were analysed.


Twenty women with VVFs were identified. The mean age was 59 (range 25–88) years. Primary malignancy was cervical in 16 women, with the remaining 4 women having ovarian, urethral, endometrial and rectal cancer respectively. All women had external beam radiotherapy with 6 (30%) undergoing boosted brachytherapy. Mean interval between radiotherapy and fistula repair was 19 (range 0–40) years. Fistulae arose spontaneously in 14 patients, whereas 6 occurred following a further surgical intervention.Closure was attempted vaginally in 7 women and abdominally in 1, whereas 12 had a primary diversion owing to significant bladder contracture and ureteric involvement. The closure rate in those attempted was 62.5%, 40% in those with spontaneous fistulae compared with 100% for post-surgical fistulae, but only 20% for the total cohort.


Closure of VVF is a significant challenge, with an initial success rate of 20% and an overall success rate of only 25%. Seventy percent required primary or secondary urinary diversion. Vaginal surgery was utilised in the majority to try to avoid a hostile pelvis, but the surgical approach should be tailored to individual circumstances.

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BT: data collection, manuscript writing; MP, RH, TG: project development; JO: project development, manuscript writing.

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Correspondence to Bogdan Toia.

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Toia, B., Pakzad, M., Hamid, R. et al. Surgical outcomes of vesicovaginal fistulae in patients with previous pelvic radiotherapy. Int Urogynecol J 31, 1381–1385 (2020).

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  • Vesicovaginal fistula
  • Radiotherapy
  • Surgical outcomes