How Uterine Fibroids Can Be Treated With UFE
As technology improves, so do the options and treatments available to patients. Thanks to these advances, women who are diagnosed with uterine fibroid tumors have more options now than ever before.
Fibroid tumors are non-cancerous lumps that grow inside the uterus. It’s a common problem. In fact, the National Institutes of Health estimates that 70 percent of white women and 80 percent of African American women will be diagnosed with fibroid tumors by the time they turn 50.
For a small percentage of women, the tumors don’t cause any problems. For others, the tumors cause significant discomfort. Fibroids can cause heavy menstrual cycles, longer periods, abdominal and back pain, and bladder and bowel problems. When symptoms like these interfere with your daily life, you need treatment.
Many doctors suggest a hysterectomy to remove the tumors and alleviate your symptoms, but there are alternatives. One of the best alternatives that few women know about is uterine fibroid embolization. This non-invasive treatment, which started in 1994, is showing a lot of promise.
Before we dive into what uterine fibroid embolization is and discuss its success rates, let’s talk about the most common treatment for fibroids – a hysterectomy – and see how it stacks up against the new treatment.
The most common fibroid treatment suggestion
If you’re experiencing symptoms brought on by uterine fibroid tumors, it’s best to consult a doctor. Once diagnosed, your doctor will most likely suggest a hysterectomy. This procedure, which removes your uterus through surgery, is the most common treatment to get rid of fibroids. However, just because it’s the most common treatment doesn’t mean it’s the only option.
Why do so many doctors prescribe this treatment? Some doctors aren’t up-to-date on current alternatives, so a hysterectomy has become their go-to solution. Some facilities aren’t equipped to offer the latest medical advances, so sometimes treatment options are based on what’s available to the doctor. Insurance companies may also dictate treatment.
The side effects of a hysterectomy
A hysterectomy does ensure that your tumors are removed; however, the procedure is major surgery. You’ll be sedated for the procedure, which usually takes about two hours. A surgeon cuts your lower stomach open to access your uterus, which is then detached from neighboring organs and removed from your body. In some cases, fallopian tubes, ovaries and tissue is also removed.
Potential side effects from the surgery include infection, hemorrhage and injury to adjacent organs. You’ll be in the hospital for two or three days after the surgery. You’ll experience cramping and bleeding while recovering and may need pain medication to alleviate the symptoms.
The surgery also ends your chances of having children, and can send your body into premature menopause. The organs that are removed during a hysterectomy are responsible for regulating your hormones. Once removed, your body is forced to react and will likely trigger symptoms that are associated with menopause.
Symptoms could include hot flashes, mood changes, shifts in sexual desire and fatigue, just to name a few. You may need to start hormone replacement therapy to help your body regain its hormonal balance.
Recovery time is also extensive. You won’t be able to return to normal activity for about six weeks.
Uterine fibroid embolization: an alternative to a hysterectomy
Uterine fibroid embolization is a safe, effective alternative to a hysterectomy. During the procedure, you’re given a sedative, but you remain awake. A radiologist will make a small incision in your upper thigh and use a small camera to locate the arteries that supply the tumors with blood. A gel-like substance is injected into theses arteries to block blood flow. Once blocked, the fibroids are starved. The tumors significantly shrink, or shrivel and die.
The procedure takes about an hour. Afterwards, you’ll be monitored for pain for about six hours, but can expect to go home the same day. You’ll likely deal with cramping for a few days and vaginal bleeding for a few weeks. You’ll have several follow-up visits to check on your progress, but you should be able to return to normal activity in about two weeks.
Uterine fibroid embolization success rates
You’re probably wondering what the success rates are when it comes to uterine fibroid embolization. According to a study of the U.S. Fibroid Registry, the procedure shows promising outcomes. Take a look at the results:
- About 85 percent of women said their symptoms improved after treatment.
- About 90 percent of women reported a significant improvement in bleeding.
- Within six months, fibroids shrank between 40 and 70 percent in size.
Uterine fibroid embolization versus a hysterectomy
Here’s a look at the differences between uterine fibroid embolization and a hysterectomy. With uterine fibroid embolization you get:
- A less invasive procedure
- Shorter hospital stay
- Quicker recovery time
- No risk of premature menopause
- Continued ability to have children
How to talk with your doctor about alternative treatments
If your doctor suggests a hysterectomy to treat fibroids, it’s okay to ask questions. As an informed patient, you’ll want to know why that particular procedure was suggested and talk about alternatives.
The truth is, few women know about uterine fibroid embolization and therefore don’t ask about it. Here’s a list of questions that you can take with you to your doctor’s office if a hysterectomy was suggested as a treatment for fibroid tumors:
- Why is a hysterectomy the right treatment for me?
- What are the side effects of a hysterectomy?
- Can I expect to deal with premature menopause as a result of a hysterectomy?
- What kind of recovery can I expect?
- Will a hysterectomy relieve the symptoms that are caused by fibroids?
- Are there other less invasive treatments that can alleviate my symptoms?
- What can you tell me about uterine fibroid embolization?
- Do you or someone on your staff have experience with uterine fibroid embolization?
- What benefits could come from uterine fibroid embolization versus a hysterectomy?
Even after discussing the questions above, your doctor may still believe that a hysterectomy is right for you. It is a viable treatment for uterine fibroid tumors, but women should know about alternative treatments that are available to them.
As with any medical treatment, it’s always best to get a second opinion and conduct your own research. Weigh the pros and cons, talk with others who have had the procedures that you’re considering and use this information to make a decision that’s right for you.