Among patients undergoing elective incisional repair of abdominal wall hernias, the use of mesh reinforcement decreases the short-term recurrence rate by 5% but increases major complications by approximately the same amount over the subsequent 5 years, Dunja Kokotovic, MB, reported at the annual clinical congress of the American College of Surgeons.

“Given the continuously increasing incidence of mesh-related complications with time, it is expected that, with even longer follow-up up than the 5 years observed in this study, mesh-related complications continue to accrue,” said Dr. Kokotovic of the Center for Surgical Science, Zealand University Hospital, Koge, Denmark. The findings of this observational registry-based cohort study were presented at the congress and simultaneously published online in JAMA (2016 Oct 17. doi: 10.1001/jama.2016.15217).

These results highlight the need to assess the long-term safety of interventions before making definitive conclusions about their benefits and widely adopting them. In the United States, manufacturers are required to demonstrate the long-term safety of drugs but not of some devices, including hernia meshes. There were approximately 190,000 such hernia repairs performed in the United States alone during the most recent year for which data are available, and mesh is estimated to have been used in at least half, Dr. Kokotovic noted.

She and her associates analyzed the 5-year outcomes for virtually all incisional hernia repairs performed in Denmark from 2007 through 2010 using data in a mandatory national registry. Their analysis included 3,242 patients (mean age, 58 years): 1,119 (34.5%) who had open mesh repair, 1,757 (54.2%) who had laparoscopic mesh repair, and 366 (11.3%) who had nonmesh repair.

The cumulative risk of reoperation for hernia recurrence was significantly lower for patients who had open mesh repair (12.3%) or laparoscopic mesh repair (10.6%) than for those who had nonmesh repair (17.1%). However, this benefit was offset by the rate of major mesh-related complications requiring surgical intervention – including surgical site infection, formation of a chronic sinus tract, late-onset intra-abdominal abscess, enterocutaneous fistula, bowel obstruction, and bowel perforation – which progressively increased over time. The cumulative incidence of such complications was 5.6% for open mesh repair and 3.7% for laparoscopic mesh repair.

This study was limited in that it was observational rather than being based on randomized data, so selection bias and imbalances among the study groups couldn’t be fully controlled for. However, two strengths of this study were that it reflects the real-world experience of an entire country and all the surgeons performing hernia repairs there, and it had 100% follow-up, the researchers said.

This study was partly funded by the Edgar Schnohr and Wife Gilberte Schnohr’s Foundation supporting independent surgical and anesthesiological research. Dr. Kokotovic reported having no relevant financial disclosures; one investigator reported receiving personal fees from Bard and Etichon for educational presentations.