Robert Hanna, MD, is an Interventional Radiologist with Banner Desert Medical Center.
Question: My doctor told me I have uterine fibroids. What are they, and what are my options?
Answer: Approximately 25 million women in the United States suffer from uterine fibroids, which are collections/growths of muscle and scar tissue in the uterus wall. They are not cancerous, but can cause serious complications such as heavy bleeding, pelvic pain, pressure and bloating, and frequent urination.
If the fibroids do not produce symptoms, they do not need to be treated. However, 30-50 percent of women over the age of 40 have some fibroid related symptom and 1 in every 3 of these women experiences symptoms so debilitating that her everyday life is greatly impacted.
Uterine fibroids affect women of all ages and backgrounds, but especially those of childbearing age, those of African-American descent, and those who are overweight or obese. One of the most common treatments for fibroids is hysterectomy, the complete removal of the uterus, which requires general anesthesia, and five-to-six weeks to recover. Approximately 600,000 women undergo a hysterectomy in the United States each year.
Several other treatment options exist for women with fibroids. One such option is uterine fibroid embolization (UFE), a minimally invasive procedure performed by an Interventional Radiologist (IR). IR doctors are trained in procedures which use imaging guidance to provide precise therapy in a minimally invasive way. During UFE, the IR physician injects tiny rounded beads into blood vessels to block the blood supply to fibroids. This blocks oxygen from getting to the fibroid. The fibroid then dies and shrinks, which causes relief of symptoms. The procedure is performed in about 1 to 2 hours and does not require general anesthesia or incisions.
In the past, patients were required to stay overnight for pain control, but now many centers including Banner Desert, use a nerve block for improved pain control. This allows patients to go home the same day (arrive at 8 am, leave by 5 pm). Patients return to their normal level of activity in 3- 7 days.
Many patients feel immediate relief in 1-2 weeks and improves with time. Studies have shown that 85-95 percent of women have marked or complete improvement in their uterine fibroid symptoms 3 to 6 months after undergoing UFE. UFE is associated with fewer complications than surgery and has been successfully used to treat over 100,000 women worldwide.