Health Team

New Treatment for Fibroid Tumors Growing in Popularity

Health experts say one in four women will develop uterine fibroid tumors. Now, doctors have more options for treatment.

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Uterine fibroids can cause a lot of discomfort and heavy menstrual bleeding. Surgically removing the uterus used to be the only option, but now there are newer, less invasive options. A new study backs up one of the most popular procedures, uterine artery embolization (UAE).

Uterine fibroids are benign tumors that grow in the wall or muscle of the uterus. Surgery used to be the only answer, but using UAE, doctors inject a solution with tiny particles through a catheter. It is placed into the uterine artery that feeds the fibroids and blocks the flow of blood to the tumors. Without blood flow, the fibroids shrink and symptoms usually go away.

Many doctors wanted more research before they recommended the relatively new procedure. Now, they have it in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The journal compared the longer term results of open surgery with embolization. They found those patients did just about as well as those who had surgery, but with less cost and quicker recovery. However, on the downside, 10 percent ended up needing surgery later on.

"The major weakness in the study was that all of the surgeries were done through an abdominal incision and that really is a bit behind the technology of the current day," said UNC GYN surgeon Dr. John Steege. "Currently, we're able to perform many of the surgery they did through a large incision, we were able to do laproscopically or minimally invasive approach."

Those newer laproscopic procedures include those done using surgical robots that offer even more precision and with recovery times as quick as with uterine embolization. The study does show embolization is a safe and effective option for women.

"This should be placed in the spectrum of treatment in addition to the newer and more sophisticated surgical procedures," said Dr. Matthew Mauro, a UNC radiological interventionist.

UNC's Fibroid Care Clinic helps women determine their best option. It could be simple medical treatment to reduce the tumor size, the UAE procedure, surgery to remove just the fibroid tumor(s) or hysterectomy. Mauro and Steege said the goal is to save the uterus and maintain fertility if at all possible.


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