Uterine Artery Embolization for Fibroids

The most common pelvic tumors in women are uterine fibroid tumors. Estimates range from 20% to 50% of women of childbearing age who are affected with these noncancerous lumps that are either inside or outside of the uterus, growing on the uterine walls. The symptoms may be very minimal, meaning the fibroids go unnoticed for years (or until a pelvic exam reveals them), or they may be severe enough to require surgery.

The Primary Options

Until recent years, the most effective way to deal with fibroid tumors was hormone therapy or surgery. Hormone therapy shrinks the fibroids, but once the therapy is complete, the fibroids grow back again. An added problem is the negative side effects of an abundance of certain hormones in the body. Surgically, the primary way to deal with fibroids was a hysterectomy, either partial or full. A hysterectomy is major surgery requiring general anesthesia, a stay in the hospital of up to a week, and six weeks recovery. Becoming pregnant is no longer an option.

Myomectomy May Work

Myomectomy is an alternative surgical procedure for fibroid treatment. This method removes the tumors while leaving the womb intact, preserving the potential for pregnancy. It can be done through abdominal surgery or laparoscopic surgery using a laparoscope through the abdominal wall, or a hysteroscope that is inserted through the vagina. If the fibroids are large, uncontrollable bleeding often occurs and this type of surgery usually ends up becoming a hysterectomy in a bid to stop the bleeding.

Uterine Artery Embolization - A New Development

Embolization or embolotherapy, is a procedure that is used to block blood vessels from the inside. It has been used by Interventional Radiologists for thirty years as a means of stopping uncontrollable bleeding from the uterus due to cancer, blood vessel malformations, trauma, and complications that may arise during pregnancy. Physicians who specialize in embolization use a combination of tiny catheters and medical imaging techniques to perform the procedure.

A Pre-Op Procedure Goes Mainstream

In the early 1990s the procedure was used to prevent excessive bleeding in women who were going to have a myomectomy for uterine fibroids. The process was so effective that symptoms significantly improved and surgery was postponed. The effects of the embolization not only improved the condition of patients, but it lasted. As a result, a study was done on women with uterine fibroids and 85% of women undergoing uterine artery embolization experience either a complete resolution of symptoms or a significant improvement in them.

Consequently, uterine artery embolization for the non-surgical treatment of fibroids is now being done in the United States at a variety of medical centers. The results have been good and pregnancy is possible. What began as a preoperative procedure has the potential to go mainstream as an effective way to deal with uterine fibroids.

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