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New procedure gets rid of painful fibroids

February 9, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Every 10 minutes, 12 women in the US get a hysterectomy. That's 600,000 a year. One-third of those are due to uterine fibroids. They can be painful and disruptive. Now, women have another option -- one that doesn't involve major surgery. Christina Simon is working hard to learn the ins and outs and ups and downs of tennis.

For more than two years, she played through the pain of uterine fibroids. She's not alone. As many as 40-percent of all women have them.

Fibroids are non-cancerous masses in the uterine wall. They can be very tiny or large like Simon's. She was told her fibroid was as big as a grapefruit.

"The doctor told me I was beginning to look pregnant," said Simon.

Before, the only option was surgery to remove the fibroid or a hysterectomy. But then Simon learned there's a treatment that doesn't involve major surgery.

Dr. Marc Friedman, an Interventional Radiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, performs uterine fibroid embolization or UFE.

"One of the beauties of this procedure is all the fibroids in the uterus are treated," said Dr. Friedman.

A catheter is inserted in an artery in the groin. Using real-time imaging, the physician guides the catheter through the artery and releases tiny particles -- the size of grains of sand -- into the uterine arteries that supply blood to the tumor. This blocks the blood flow.

"The fibroids die and eventually shrink," said Dr. Friedman.

Approximately 85 to 90-percent of women who undergo a UFE say it significantly improves symptoms. Simon's shrunk by half, and within two months, she was back on the tennis court.

"I came back and started playing again," said Simon.

She is now focused on her game and not her pain.

No one knows what causes fibroids, but we do know that African American women are at a greater risk -- 50-percent may have fibroids of significant size.

Web Extra Information:

What are uterine fibroids?:

Uterine fibroids are also called fibromyomas, leiomyomas or myomas and usually appear during an adult woman's childbearing years. Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths inside the uterus. They affect as many as three out of four women sometime during their lives. Most times, there are no symptoms for the fibroids. The fibroids are not associated with any increased risk of uterine cancer nor are there cases where fibroids developed into cancer. (Source: Mayo Clinic)

Uterine Fibroid Symptoms:

The Mayo Clinic outlines some common symptoms of uterine fibroids. These include: constipation, frequent urination, difficulty emptying your bladder, heavy menstrual bleeding, prolonged menstrual periods, frequent urination, back aches and leg pains. Many symptoms go away, but if they don't, it is suggested you see a doctor.

Uterine Fibroid Treatments:

There are medications to help treat the symptoms of uterine fibroids, such as heavy menstrual bleeding and pelvic pressure. However, there is no medication that can eliminate the fibroids. Some common medications include: Gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists, Progestin-releasing intrauterine device (IUD), and Androgens. The only permanent proven elimination of uterine fibroids is having the uterus removed through a hysterectomy. Once this option is chosen a woman gives up her ability to bear children and now has to choose whether or not to take hormone replacement. Myomectomy is another procedure that removes the fibroids but without removing the uterus. By not removing the uterus, there still are risks of fibroid recurrence.

Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE):

UFE is a way of treating uterine fibroids, but without surgery. UFE has a shorter recovery time and takes less than one hour for the full procedure. The UFE procedure consists of an interventional radiologist using a catheter to deliver microscopic beads to block the uterine fibroids' blood supply inside the uterus so it cannot grow anymore. Over 13,000 UFE procedures have already been conducted since 2004. Ninety-six percent of those patients said they were happy with their results. UFE offers another route for treatment against uterine fibroids while preserving the uterus. UFE is covered by most insurance companies.