Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous growths that develop on the wall of the uterus. While they are almost always harmless, 15 million American women are estimated to experience problems associated with fibroids, like excessive bleeding (heavy periods), intense pelvic pressure, lower back pain and reproductive/fertility issues.
Previously, the only option was fibroid treatments like a hysterectomy (the surgical removal of the entire womb). This may still be the best choice for particularly large fibroid growth.
However, minimally invasive and non-surgical therapies are emerging as highly effective treatment alternatives for small to medium-sized fibroids. These treatments enable women to preserve the womb allowing them to go on and have children if they wish.
Here are some of those treatment types.
This is one of the most commonly used alternatives to complete removal of the uterus (womb). It involves making a small keyhole incision in the stomach and inserting a small light tube with a built-in camera (laparoscope). Using special instruments and a monitor, the surgeon can remove any troublesome fibroids from the uterus wall without needing to remove the womb.
Aside from preserving the uterus, other advantages include minimal scarring, quicker recovery times and shorter hospital stays.
Magnetic resonance-guided focused ultrasound surgery (MRgFUS)
Although this sounds like a complex fibroid treatment, the theory behind it is relatively simple. MRgFUS involves using high-intensity ultrasound waves that heat and destroy the fibroid cells. Using ultrasound waves over surgical treatments like a myomectomy has several advantages.
Firstly, no incisions are necessary. Instead, ultrasound waves are focused on a small tissue area in a process called sonication. The energy-focused ultrasound heats tissue at the focal zone to between 55 and 85 degrees centigrade, causing the fibroid cells to die off slowly.
Secondly, because this is a non-surgical treatment, it does not need to be carried out in a hospital setting. Instead, it can be carried out chairside by an interventional radiologist or vascular/endovascular specialist, so there is no hospital stay.
Finally, MRgFUS preserves the uterus and, therefore, the patient’s ability to become pregnant.
Uterine fibroid Embolization (UFE)
Another alternative to complete and minimal surgery options is a procedure known as uterine fibroid embolization, or UFE for short.
Again, like MRgFUS, fibroid embolization is typically carried out chairside, away from a hospital setting. Following a local anesthetic, a small pinhole incision is made into the groin area, and a catheter is inserted into the main femoral artery. It’s then guided towards the fibroid growth and into the vessel that supplies blood to the fibroid.
When the destination is reached, the practitioner releases harmless tiny particles known as microspheres. These are, in effect, microscopic gelatine beads about the size of a grain of sand. When the particles are released, they clump or stick together, blocking the blood flow to the fibroid. The idea is that when blood flow to the fibroid ceases, so too do the essential nutrients that allow it to survive. The result is that the fibroid shrinks, and any symptoms are relieved.
While fibroid treatment involving UFE is not a quick-fix solution, often taking 2-3 months on average, patients typically notice a reduction in bleeding during their subsequent menstrual cycle and reduced discomfort.
Other advantages include no hospital stays, a speedy recovery with most women being able to return to work within one week, and lower risks of complications.
Of course, the benefits of minimally invasive and non-invasive fibroid treatment extend far beyond the physical aspects. The psychological impact of undergoing major surgery like a hysterectomy can also be substantial. The reduced trauma of procedures like UFE and guidance-focused ultrasound treatment can alleviate much of the anxiety and stress commonly associated with patients before surgery.
Moreover, shorter recovery times allow patients to resume their normal activities by returning to work quicker, thus minimizing further disruption to their professional and personal lives.
As mentioned earlier, it’s essential to consider that not all fibroids can be treated with minimally invasive or non-surgical therapies. The selection of the appropriate procedure depends upon various factors, such as:
- fibroid size
- fibroid location
- the number of fibroids, and
- the patient’s overall health.
In some cases, it may be that a conventional hysterectomy is the only option. Therefore, women with fibroid issues must talk to their healthcare providers to determine the most suitable treatments based on their individual circumstances.
Fibroid treatment - The key message
Magnetic resonance-guided ultrasound surgery, uterine fibroid embolization and laparoscopic myomectomy are all modern techniques used to reduce the pain and trauma associated with traditional open surgery.
Not only that, minimally invasive and non-surgical treatments like these have changed the outlook for women who had previously faced a stark choice of traditional open surgery and nothing else.
Nowadays, the range of treatment options means that patients can experience fibroid treatments that result in:
- smaller incisions
- minimal scarring
- less post-operative discomfort
- quicker recovery times,
- minimized spent in a hospital setting, and, in most cases,
- the possibility of still being able to conceive.
That’s a long way from undergoing an open surgery hysterectomy and subsequently, womb removal, in every circumstance.
If you are experiencing fibroid problems, come and talk to the team at MINT. Dr Akinwande is a board-certified interventional radiologist, vascular and endovascular specialist who has helped many women cure their fibroid symptoms using uterine fibroid embolization therapy.
Want to know more?
Why not schedule a consultation at our St Louis clinic and determine whether you’re a good candidate for fibroid treatment. Call 314 255 2204 or book online today.
We also have 4 other offices based in Wentzville, MO and Swansea, IL, Evergreen Park, IL and Chicago, IL.
Photo attribution: image by Dragana_Gordic on Freepik