This is a 2007 review of research on gender reassignment surgery. The authors found that there was not enough strong research to evaluate gender reassignment surgery; you can read more about the study as a whole here. This article looks more at specific surgical procedures.
The authors of the review evaluated individual surgical procedures rather than just looking at the outcome of all gender reassignment surgeries together. This allows a better understanding of which procedures are the most effective. It also means excluding some studies that looked at more than one procedure.
The authors reviewed all the articles they could find on specific gender reassignment surgeries from 1980 onwards. The review took place in October and November 2005.
The following are some of the results they found for specific surgeries. There is not enough data to definitively evaluate particular procedures and techniques, but there is useful information on possible complications. Clearly, however, we need more research.
Surgeries for Trans Women (born male)
Clitoroplasty/neoclitoris construction – The authors reviewed three studies that used a range of surgical techniques. The results were generally good but in one study 2 out of 10 patients had necrosis of the neoclitoris; in another study three out of nine patients did not report sexual satisfaction.
“All three included papers reported successful results in terms of function and cosmetic appearance with few or no complications (e.g. urine leakage). Rehman and Melman reported that the neoclitoris had remained intact postoperatively in eight out of 10 patients and the functional and cosmetic appearance was comparable to a normal clitoris. In two patients, however, the results were not satisfactory because of necrosis of the neoclitoris.
Using the dorsal portion of the glans penis with the dorsal neurovascular pedicle for clitoroplasty, the neoclitorides in nine patients survived well, and six patients reported sexual satisfaction. However, the transpositioning of glans on the long dorsal neurovascular pedicle appears to be a procedure with high risks. Overall, several studies have reported that the neoclitoris construction can result in good preservation of light touch and sexual sensation.“
Vaginoplasty/neovagina construction – The authors reviewed 32 studies. Satisfactory cosmetic and functional results were reported in many of the studies, although one found that “vaginoplasty combining inversion of the penile and scrotal skin flaps produced poor functional outcomes.”
One study reported some severe complications.
A 2001 study from Germany reported that “major complications during, immediately and after surgery occurred in nine of the 66 patients (14%), including necrosis of the distal urethra (n = 1), necrosis of the glans (n = 3), a rectal lesion (n = 3), and severe wound infections (n = 6).”
In addition, according to the abstract of the 2001 study, “Minor complications, e.g. meatal stenosis in seven patients, occurred in 24 (36%) of patients. Ten patients with insufficient penile skin had the phallic cylinder augmented with a free-skin mesh graft, but in three of these patients an ileal augmentation was finally constructed because scarring occurred at the suture line between the penile skin and the augmented graft.”
At the same time, 47% of the patients in the 2001 study completed a follow-up questionnaire and almost all of them reported that they were “satisfied with the cosmetic result and capacity for orgasm.” Over half of the people who answered the follow-up questionnaire had had sexual intercourse. It is not clear if the satisfied group included the people who had had complications.
It would be good to have more information to compare to the German results. Are these rates of complications normal?
The reviewers did not find studies that met their criteria for labiaplasty, orchidectomy, or penectomy.
Surgeries for Trans Men (born female)
Hysterectomy – The authors only reviewed one study that met their criteria; it reported successful operations for two trans men. The study also reported that “a laparoscopic hysterectomy using the McCartney tube for FTM GRS was a useful procedure in overcoming difficulties encountered due to restricted vaginal access.”
Mastectomy – The authors reviewed three studies: “Colic and Colic found the use of a circumareolar approach for subcutaneous mastectomy produced flatter masculine breasts, leaving sufficient dermal vascularization for the nipple-areola complex. Of the 12 FTM patients all were very satisfied with the outcomes of surgery mainly because of the periareolar scar. It was reported, however, that two areolar necroses occurred due to perforation of the thin vascular dermal pedicle.”
Metoidioplasty – The authors reviewed two studies.
In the first, the procedure was successful for 32 patients with an average hospital stay of 11 days. One patient had a severe haematoma (solid swelling of clotted blood), but there were no other complications.
In the second study, 17 patients were satisfied with the size and appearance of their penis, but 5 people required additional augmentation phalloplasty. In two cases, the trans men developed urethral stenosis (narrowing of the urethra) and in three cases they developed fistula. The complications were related to the urethroplasty.
The reviewers add: “The metoidioplasty procedure produces a very small phallus (e.g. mean = 5.7 cm, range = 4–10 cm), hardly capable of sexual penetration, if at all. Only 10 of the 32 patients were able to void whilst standing. It should be noted that in the study by Hage et al, 18 patients combined the metoidioplasty procedure with the construction of a bifid scrotum in which testicular prostheses were implanted. Overall these two studies found metoidioplasty was an appropriate method where the clitoris seems large enough to provide a phallus and satisfies the patient.”
Phalloplasty – There is only limited data on the outcomes of phalloplasty, although two studies reported good outcomes in terms of size and stiffness and one reported good psychological outcomes.
However, there are a range of procedures and they have mixed results.
Serious complications have been reported and phalloplasty leaves a scar somewhere on the body.
One study found that creating the neourethra in two stages could reduce complications.
Another study using a suprapubic abdominal wall flap produced a good cosmetic appearance for 68% of the people; presumably 32% of the trans men had phalluses that did not look as good. A small study of using a lateral arm free flap reported good results.
“There appear to be limited data on outcome measures, including social integration, patient satisfaction and physiological function. Good operative results have been reported in terms of appropriate size and stiffness without vascular compromise and in terms of psychological outcomes. In addition to an aesthetically appealing look either while being nude (81%) or wearing a tight swim suit (91%), to void whilst standing appears to be an important goal for many FTM patients. It is important to recognize that there are a range of phalloplasty procedures available with mixed findings being reported in terms of effectiveness. Hage et al. reported several serious complications such as vesicovaginal, urethrovaginal fistulas and urinary incontinence. Furthermore, unlike the metoidioplasty procedure, free flap phalloplasty techniques produce extensive scarring to the donor site, unless techniques such as tissue expansion are used. Of the 85 FTM patients who had a phalloplasty fashioned from suprapubic abdominal wall flap that was tubed to form the phallus, Bettocchi et al. reported the cosmetic appearance of the phallus was considered good in 68% of the patients. Major complications (n = 60) were associated with the neourethra (75%), stricture formation (64%) and/or fistulae (55%). It should be noted that the complication rates found by Bettocchi et al. were significantly less (P < 0.001) when the neourethra was created in two stages. In contrast, Khouri et al. concluded by using a prefabricated lateral arm free flap technique it is possible to achieve a fully functional penis with stable long-term results and excellent patient satisfaction.”
Scrotoplasty/scrotum construction/testicular prosthesis – The authors reviewed two studies that met their criteria. “This procedure is generally accomplished by hollowing out the labia majora, inserting silicone implants, and attaching the labia to develop a single scrotal sac. Implant expulsion, rupture or dislocation is encountered in a small number of patients.”
Urethroplasty – The authors did not find any studies that met their criteria, but they reported that “A one-stage total phalloplasty and urethroplasty was associated with a significant rate of fistulas and strictures.”
The authors did not find studies that met their criteria for Salpingo-oophorectomy or vaginectomy/vaginal closure.
The authors conclude that “There is a need for good quality controlled trials based on clearly defined diagnosis and assessment criteria.”
And, “we have confirmed the findings from previous reviews that the evidence to support GRS has several limitations in terms of: (a) lack of controlled studies; (b) evidence has not collected data prospectively; (c) high loss to follow up; and (d) lack of validated assessment measures. We have extended these findings from previous reviews by providing a summary of the evidence available for each of the ‘core’ procedures for MTF and FTM transsexism. In the majority of studies a large number of persons with transsexism experience a successful outcome in terms of subjective well being, cosmesis, and sexual function. We conclude that the magnitude of benefit and harm cannot be estimated accurately using the current available evidence.”
I have included more of their discussion in my review here.
Evaluation of surgical procedures for sex reassignment: a systematic review by Sutcliffe PA, Dixon S, Akehurst RL, Wilkinson A, Shippam A, White S, Richards R, Caddy CM in J Plast Reconstr Aesthet Surg. 2009 Mar;62(3):294-306.