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Women With Uterine Fibroids Have Alternative To Surgery

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RALEIGH, N.C. — There is a relatively new and very effective treatment for fibroid tumors that does not require major surgery; however, most women will not hear about it from their doctors.

As a fiscal analyst working on the state budget, Denise Thomas has no time to slow down. When she developed uterine fibroids, she could barely go to work.

"I was just really severely anemic even though I was taking the most powerful iron supplement there was," she said.

Thomas' doctor told her she needed a hysterectomy.

"It just wasn't in my gut. I wasn't ready. I wasn't accepting that I had to have a hysterectomy," she said.

For Thomas, there was another option. Uterine fibroid embolization, or UFE, is a minimally invasive procedure where radiologists insert a tiny catheter through the groin and into the uterus. Tiny particles are injected into the fibroid, cutting off blood flow to the tumors.

"When the tissue doesn't have enough blood supply it starts shrinking," said Dr. Matthew Mauro, a radiologist at UNC Hospitals.

While the treatment has been found to be more than 90 percent effective, Mauro said do not expect to hear about the procedure from a gynecologist.

"We're afraid that many GYNs in practice aren't even aware that it's a possibility," he said.

A recent survey by Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicagofound that only 10 percent of women who had UFE heard about it from their gynecologist; 69 percent of patients were self-referred. Most woman had heard about the procedure from other women, the news or the Internet.

Mauro said the few gynecologists who do know about UFE are wary of it.

"They want 20 years of data on it and it's so new we don't have it yet," he said.

Thomas learned about the procedure from a friend. Since having it, she said she feels like herself again and has learned how important it is to take charge of your health.

"You have to follow your gut," she said. "If you don't feel it's right for you, then find another physician or, on your own, say 'I've found these other options and I really want to pursue them first.'"

Patients who have the procedure usually spend one night in the hospital. Most women are able to return to work after three to five days. Mauro said not all women are candidates for the procedure. He said some women still require traditional surgery.