Transcending Dimensions: a Comparative Analysis of Cloaca Imaging in Advancing the Surgeon’s Understanding of Complex Anatomy

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of Digital Imaging








3D printing; Anorectal malformation; Cloaca; Surgical education


© 2018, Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine. Surgeons have a steep learning capacity to understand 2-D images provided by conventional cloacagrams. Imaging advances now allow for 3-D reconstruction and 3-D models; but no evaluation of the value of these techniques exists in the literature. Therefore, we sought to determine if advances in 3-D imaging would benefit surgeons, lead to accelerated learning, and improve understanding for operative planning of a cloaca reconstruction. Questionnaires were used to assess the understanding of 2-D and 3-D images by pediatric surgical faculty and trainees. For the same case of a cloacal malformation, a 2D contrast study cloacagram, a 3D model rotatable CT scan reconstruction, a software enhanced 3D video animation (which allowed the observer to manipulate the structure in any orientation), and a printed physical 3D cloaca model that could be held in the observer’s hand were employed. Logistic mixed effect models assessed whether the proportion of questions about the case that were answered correctly differed by imaging modality, and whether the proportion answered correctly differed between trainee and attending surgeons for any particular modality. Twenty-nine pediatric surgery trainees (27 pediatric general surgery and 2 pediatric urology surgery trainees) and 30 pediatric surgery and urology faculty participated. For trainees, the percentage of questions answered correctly was: 2-D 10.5%, 3-D PACS 46.7%, 3-D Enhanced 67.1%, and 3-D Printed 73.8%. For faculty, the total percentage of questions answered correctly was: 2-D 22.2%, 3-D PACS 54.8%, 3D Enhanced 66.2%, and 3-D printed 74.0%. The differences in rates of correctness across all four modalities were significant in both fellows and attendings (p < 0.001), with performance being lowest for the 2-D modality, and with increasing percentage of correct answers with each subsequent modality. The difference between trainees and attendings in correctness rate was significant only for the 2-D modality, with attendings answering correctly more often. The 2-D cloacagram, as the least complex model, was the most difficult to interpret. The more complex the modality, the more correct were the responses obtained from both groups. Trainees and attendings had similar levels of correct answers and understanding of the cloacagram for the more advanced modalities. Mental visualization skills of anatomy and complex 3-D spatial arrangements traditionally have taken years of experience to master. Now with novel surgical education resources of a 3-D cloacagram, a more quickly advancing skill is possible.

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