Anatomy of Denonvilliers' fascia and pelvic nerves, impotence, and implications for the colorectal surgeon




The development and anatomy of Denonvilliers' fascia have been controversial for many years and confusion exists about its operative appearance. Better appreciation of this poorly understood anatomy, and its significance for impotence after rectal dissection, may lead to further functional improvements in pelvic surgery.


A literature review of the embryology and anatomy of Denonvilliers' fascia and impotence after pelvic rectal surgery was undertaken.


Denonvilliers' fascia has no macroscopically discernible layers. The so-called posterior layer refers to the fascia propria of the rectum. The incidence of erectile and ejaculatory dysfunction after rectal excision is high in older patients, and when performed for rectal cancer. There is no consensus about the relationship of Denonvilliers' fascia to the plane of anterior dissection for rectal cancer.


Colorectal surgeons should focus on the important anatomy between the rectum and the prostate to improve functional outcomes after rectal excision. A classification of the available anterior dissection planes is proposed. Surgeons should be encouraged to document the plane used as well as outcome in terms of sexual function. © 2000 British Journal of Surgery Society Ltd