By Eric Hardee, MD, and William Fox, MD
Chances are, you or someone you know has uterine fibroids. These benign tumors, which often appear during childbearing years, are so common that the National Institutes of Health estimates as many as 80 percent of women will develop them by age 50. African-American women are more likely to develop fibroids at a younger age and have larger fibroids that cause more severe symptoms. Although some women may never have symptoms, fibroids often cause heavy menstrual bleeding, severe pelvic pain or pressure, and urinary frequency.
One of the most commonly recommended treatment for uterine fibroids is hysterectomy, a major surgical procedure to remove the uterus and sometimes, the ovaries. Uterine fibroids are one of the leading causes of hysterectomies in the United States, with an estimated 200,000 performed annually for this reason. Hysterectomies require recovery time of four to six weeks, leave surgical scars and involve the risk of potential complications including blood clots, infection, the need for additional surgeries and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
However, what you – or your grandmother, mother, sister, friend or cousin – may not know is that hysterectomy is not the only option. And you’re in good company: one in five women in the U.S. believe that the only treatment for fibroids is hysterectomy, according to an online survey conducted by The Harris Poll.
Non-surgical treatment options can offer more benefits and fewer risks
Depending on the size, number and exact location of uterine fibroids, several non-surgical treatment options are available to provide symptom relief. These include oral contraceptive pills, IUDs, magnetic resonance guided focused ultrasound waves and Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE).
In particular, UFE has been used successfully worldwide for more than 20 years, providing hundreds of thousands of women with symptom relief from their fibroids. Despite this fact, 62 percent of American women have never heard of it. This minimally invasive procedure, performed by interventional radiologists, involves inserting a slender catheter into the wrist or groin and then injecting tiny particles that shut off the blood supply to the fibroids. Without a blood supply, the fibroids shrink permanently, ultimately bringing symptom relief.
UFE offers numerous advantages over hysterectomy. It is performed on an outpatient basis, requiring no hospitalization and no incision. The recovery period is shorter and less painful, with most women able to resume normal activity and return to work within 7 to 10 days. By preserving the uterus, it also provides an important option for women who may still wish to become pregnant.
The overwhelming majority of women with symptomatic uterine fibroids are candidates for UFE, whose effectiveness has been well-established through substantial scientific research. Based on long- and short-term outcomes, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recommended UFE as a safe and effective option for fibroid treatment since 2008. Yet, the Harris Poll survey found that 46 percent of women diagnosed with uterine fibroids who were aware of UFE did not first learn about it from their OB-GYN.
Before you act – understand all your options
Here are four important steps to take before deciding on treatment for uterine fibroids:
- Do your homework. Visit reputable medical websites for the latest information, including the National Uterine Fibroid Foundation (nuff.org), American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (www.acog.org) and the Society of Interventional Radiology (www.sirweb.org).
- Talk to other women about their experiences with uterine fibroids.What treatment option did they choose? What were the results? How did they feel about their experience, before and after?
- Talk to your OB-GYN. Ask plenty of questions, including: Do I need treatment? What are my options, surgical and non-surgical? What are the risks? Am I a potential candidate for UFE? What if I want to become pregnant? What is the likelihood fibroids will return after treatment?
- If you’re considering UFE, talk to an interventional radiologist. Interventional radiologists specialize in minimally invasive, image-guided treatment of medical conditions, such as fibroids, that previously required open surgery. An interventional radiologist who specializes in UFE can evaluate whether you are a good candidate for the procedure.
By educating yourself about all available treatment options for uterine fibroids, you can knowledgeably work with your physicians to choose the one that’s right for you and help ensure the best possible outcome.
Dr. Hardee and Dr. Fox have over 35 years in combined experience performing Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE). They have pioneered the outpatient treatment of fibroids in Texas with revolutionary techniques including trans-radial access for UFE. They perform more UFE procedures in a single day than most practitioners do in a year.