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In the present issue of the BJUI, Singh et al. [1] present the results of a non-randomized prospective study comprising 80 patients who underwent ileal conduit diversion and 84 who underwent orthotopic bladder substitution. Quality of life was assessed using the European Organisation for the Research and Treatment of Cancer quality-of-life questionnaire, the QLQ-30C, at 6, 12 and 18 months postoperatively. Physical and social functioning and global health status were significantly better in patients with orthotopic bladder substitution than in those who underwent ileal conduit diversion. Moreover, the postoperative financial burden was significantly lower for patients in the orthotopic bladder group than for those in the ileal conduit group, who required stoma appliances, a finding of particular importance not only in India, where the study was performed, but worldwide. The authors' results are particularly impressive given their use of a questionnaire that included many items (‘Were you short of breath?’, ‘Did you need to rest?’, ‘Have you lacked appetite?’, ‘Have you been constipated?’, ‘Did you feel tense?’, ‘Did you worry’ or ‘Did you feel irritable?’, etc.) that can hardly discriminate between the quality of life of patients who underwent orthotopic bladder substitution and those who underwent ileal conduit diversion. To find significant differences between the two types of urinary diversion, despite such dilution factors, speaks strongly in favour of orthotopic bladder substitution.

The results of this prospective single-centre trial are of particular importance because, as the authors state, other investigators could not show such differences, presumably for a variety of reasons, such as too few patients or single follow-up assessments given at time points that varied from patient to patient. Quality-of-life assessment at similar follow-up time points, as performed by these authors, is important because, with adequate counselling, the postoperative function of orthotopic bladder substitutes improves over time.

Without a doubt, however, a poorly functioning orthotopic bladder substitute may lead to a poorer quality of life than a well-functioning ileal conduit diversion. Poor functional results and life-threatening complications can be largely avoided with ileal orthotopic bladder substitutes, provided the treating urologist has adequate knowledge of the procedure and the patient receives adequate postoperative education [2]. The major ways to ensure good results are:

  • appropriate patient selection (good renal function, regular follow-up possible);
  • the avoidance of damage to the sphincter apparatus and its innervation (individualized nerve-sparing cystectomy, minimum use of bipolar electrocautery near the pelvic plexus and membranous urethra);
  • the use of ileum instead of colon (better compliance) [3-5];
  • the avoidance of a funnel-shaped outlet that can result in kinking, outlet obstruction, residual infected urine and, in the worst case, lifelong need for clean intermittent catheterization (CIC) (Fig. 1).
figure

Figure 1. An anastomosis of a funnel-shaped end of reservoir to the urethra must be avoided because of the risk of kinking, particularly with downward pressure and subsequent obstruction.

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By contrast to most other urological procedures, orthotopic bladder substitution requires proactive postoperative management [6] to ensure:

  • residual urine-free spontaneous voiding after catheter removal;
  • sterile urine to improve urinary continence and to reduce mucous production [7];
  • the prevention of salt loss syndrome and metabolic acidosis by increased salt intake and sodium bicarbonate substitution in the early postoperative period to ensure a base excess of +2;
  • a systematic increase in functional capacity by progressively expanding voiding intervals to obtain a reservoir capacity of ∼500 mL and, thus, a low end-fill pressure which ensures urinary continence day and night (the latter combined with the use of an alarm clock).

It is equally important to perform lifelong follow-up of patients and regularly at 6- to 12-month intervals so as to diagnose and treat early secondary complications, such as uretero-intestinal strictures or residual, infected urine. If the latter occurs, any form of outlet obstruction, such as ileal mucosa protruding in front of the bladder outlet, strictures or growth of inadvertently left prostatic tissue, must be looked for and treated. In our own experience, secondary outlet obstruction occurred in ∼20% of patients observed for 10 years. This rather high incidence is typical for intestinal bladder substitutes because when voiding, unlike the genuine bladder, there is no coordinated contraction of the reservoir wall which would result in an elevated voiding pressure which, in turn, would overcome an outlet resistance. Bladder substitutes empty mainly by gravitational force alone. If voiding is only possible by abdominal straining, then something must be wrong; therefore, instead of recommending CIC for patients who build up residual and consecutively infected urine, we strongly favour treating the outlet obstruction, usually on an outpatient basis. The avoidance of the need for CIC through surgical technique (no funnel-shaped outlet) and during regular follow-up by treating any potential cause of residual urine can substantially improve the patient's quality of life. It also avoids the cost of catheters and the risk of infectious complications. Thanks to this active management and removal of any outlet obstruction, 96% of our patients followed for 10 years were still able to void spontaneously [8].

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