Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE)
A New Procedure for Treating Uterine Fibroids - Without Surgery
A new procedure, Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE), now offers women a non-surgical alternative for treating fibroids. Embolization of uterine fibroids deprives the fibroid of its blood supply, “starving” it of nutrients. In the majority of patients the fibroid will shrink substantially, resulting in alleviation of symptoms.
In the early 1990’s, French doctors noticed that patients who underwent uterine artery embolization for uterine bleeding also experienced shrinkage of uterine fibroids and relief of the related symptoms. This led to the investigation of UFE as a primary treatment for fibroids. Physicians in the U.S. began performing UFE in 1995. The procedure has been performed hundreds of times since its introduction.
What is Embolization?
Embolization is a process where the arterial blood supply is cut off to an organ or tissues. The procedure has been used for more than 20 years to stop internal bleeding without surgery, to deprive a tumor of blood, or to pre-operatively reduce blood loss during surgery.
What are Uterine Fibroids?
A fibroid is a benign tumor that forms from a single smooth muscle cell that has lost its normal growth controls. No one knows exactly what causes this to occur. Once a fibroid is formed, hormones stimulate its continued growth. When a woman enters menopause and her hormones decrease, the fibroid naturally shrinks.
|This image shows multiple fibroid
tumors in a 51-year old patient.
||This post -operative image shows
that the fibroid has been cut
off from the blood supply.
Who gets uterine fibroids?
Thirty to forty percent of all women will develop uterine fibroids at some point during their lifetime, although fibroids most commonly develop after a woman reaches age 35. Women of certain ethnic groups (such as African-American) have even higher rates of fibroid occurrence.
What problems do they cause?
Many fibroids do not create medical problems and no treatment is necessary. In other cases, however, these non-cancerous growths can cause excessive uterine bleeding, pelvic pain and cramping, backaches, sexual dysfunction, and urinary problems. The symptoms usually become more frequent and more severe with the growth of the fibroid.
The three most common treatments for fibroids:
Prescription Drug Therapy
These drugs are used to mimic menopause by artificially reducing hormone levels. While this treatment is successful in reducing symptoms, the effect is temporary, lasting only as long as the drugs are taken. Drug therapy may also cause side effects similar to menopause (hot flashes, bone loss, etc.).
Myomectomy (selective surgical removal of fibroids)
This treatment preserves the uterus, but the surgery can be more complex than a hysterectomy, with a risk of significant blood loss during surgery. General anesthesia is usually required and a multiple-day hospital stay following the procedure is often necessary. Fibroids also re-occur in up to 15% of patients.
Hysterectomy (removal of the entire uterus)
Hysterectomy has proven itself to be completely effective in the treatment of fibroids, which is why it is the most commonly used approach. However, a hysterectomy can have a major physical and psychological impact on some women, and the recovery time can take several weeks (8-12 on average).