The Evolution of Pelvic Exenteration Practice at a Single Center: Lessons Learned from over 500 Cases

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Considerable progress has been made in the management of patients with locally advanced or recurrent cancers of the pelvis over the past 60 years since the inception of pelvic exenteration. Early progress in pelvic exenteration was marred by the high surgical mortality and morbidity, which drew scepticism from the broader surgical community. Subsequent evolution in the procedure hinged on establishing surgical safety and a better understanding of outcome predictors. Surgical mortality from pelvic exenteration is now comparable to that of elective resection for primary colorectal cancers. The importance of a clear resection margin is also now well established in providing durable local control and predicting long-term survival that, in turn, has driven the development of novel surgical techniques for pelvic side wall resection, en bloc sacrectomy, and pubic bone resection. A tailored surgical approach depending on the location of the tumor with resection of contiguously involved organs, yet preserving uninvolved organs to minimize unnecessary surgical morbidity, is paramount. Despite improved surgical and oncological outcomes, surgical morbidity following pelvic exenteration remains high with reported complication rates ranging between 20% and 80%. Extended antibiotic prophylaxis and preemptive parenteral nutrition in the immediate postoperative period may reduce septic and nutritional complications. A high index of suspicion is needed in the early diagnosis and management of complications that may avoid prolonged duration of hospitalization. An acceptable quality of life has been reported among patients after pelvic exenteration. Further research into novel chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and reconstructive options are currently underway and are needed to further improve outcomes.

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