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Minimally Invasive Procedure Effective for Treating Fibroids in Some Women

By Heather Maloney
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center correspondent

A minimally invasive procedure has been shown to successfully treat uterine fibroids while requiring little downtime for the patient and preserving the woman's uterus.

"This is another treatment option for women to consider," says Dr. Yvonne Gomez-Carrion, a physician in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and an Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Harvard Medical School. "It's a great option for a woman who is an appropriate candidate and doesn't want to have surgery."

Called uterine fibroid embolization (UFE), this non-surgical procedure is performed while the patient is conscious but sedated, and typically requires only an overnight hospital stay and a few days of recovery. Traditional operative procedures such as multiple myomectomy (removal of fibroids) and abdominal hysterectomy typically require a one to two day hospital stay and a recovery period of about four to six weeks. Also, a total hysterectomy removes the entire uterus, while UFE, if successful, allows preservation of the uterus.

Uterine fibroids diagram 

Fibroids are benign tumors made up of muscle cells and other tissue that grow within the wall of the uterus. According to the National Institutes of Health, uterine fibroids are the most common non-cancerous tumors in women of childbearing age.

Most fibroids don't cause any discomfort or abnormal bleeding. Only about 10 to 20 percent of women who have fibroids require some form of treatment. Depending on the location, size and number of fibroids, a patient may experience heavy, prolonged menstrual periods and unusual monthly bleeding, pressure on the bladder or bowel, an abnormally enlarged abdomen, pelvic pain, and pain during sexual intercourse.

In UFE, also referred to as uterine fibroid embolization, the doctor makes a small incision (usually in the groin area) and inserts a thin, flexible tube into a blood vessel in the groin. Tiny pellets of glycerin are injected through the tube into the arteries that feed the fibroids. The pellets block the vessels supplying blood to the fibroids, cutting off their blood supply and causing them to shrink or become dormant.

While UFE is an effective treatment option for uterine fibroids, the effects on future fertility and development of a fetus have not been fully determined.

There have been cases of successful pregnancies following this procedure, but there have also been problems with conception and possible placental issues (such as the location and functioning of the placenta).

The procedure has other risks as well.

"UFE can put you into an earlier menopause, though that can be a positive for some women who have been experiencing extreme symptoms with their fibroids," says Dr. Gomez-Carrion.

And, though small, there is also the risk of infection.

Dr. Gomez-Carrion points out that UFE is not an option for every patient. If you suffer from uterine fibroids, she advises that you discuss all of the options with your doctor.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Updated September 2012

Contact Information

Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
East Campus
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215