I have a fibroid that’s slowly gotten bigger. My OB/GYN says it doesn’t have to come out, but that it might down the road. I just heard about a new treatment for fibroids without surgery. Can you tell me what you think of it?
Fibroids are benign, non-cancerous growths in the uterus. They’re common. In fact, half of all women over age 35 have them. For most, these cause no problems at all. But when they grow to a large size or cause bleeding or pain, treatment is often needed. Medications can help, but a permanent solution usually means surgery, either myomectomy, to remove just the fibroids, or a hysterectomy. Well now there’s a new, non-surgical alternative for women that falls somewhere in between. The technique, uterine artery embolization, is more definitive than medications, but less invasive than surgery. The idea is simple, block the blood supply and the fibroids will shrink.
The procedure is performed in a hospital interventional radiology suite, under local anesthesia. A catheter is guided through a small arterial incision in the groin. Special x-ray equipment is used to pinpoint the uterine arteries which supply blood to the fibroids. Small particles, the size of sand, are injected into the arteries, cutting off blood flow within minutes. Most patients spend one night in the hospital and are back to routine activities in four to five days. Over time, the fibroids shrink to about half their original size; and for most women that’s enough to relieve their symptoms.
Thousands of procedures have been done in the United States, but there are still many unanswered questions. The procedure is less invasive and much easier on the patient than traditional surgery; but, so far, there have been no scientific studies comparing the different treatments head-to-head. Controlled, randomized trials are now underway to test how well the procedure works and to see if it’s safe enough to be used in women who want to preserve their fertility.
Uterine artery embolization can treat many symptoms related to fibroids, but its long-term success is unknown. The technique is an exciting new treatment option, but we need scientific proof that it’s safe and effective. It’s not widely available and it’s not covered by all health insurance companies — things that could change if it becomes the preferred treatment for this common condition.
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