Uterine fibroids are benign (non-cancerous) tumors that grow on or within the lining of the uterus.
They can range in size from as small as a grape to as large as a cantaloupe.
Approximately 20-40% of women over age 35 have fibroids.
African American women are three times more likely to develop them than women of other ethnicities.
As fibroids grow, they can result in severe pelvic pain or discomfort, urinary incontinence, frequent urination and heavy menstrual bleeding. The location and size of uterine fibroids can affect the severity of these symptoms. Fibroids are also hormonally sensitive, so the symptoms can be cyclical, just like with menstruation.
For many women, fibroids have forced them to take many steps to prevent “accidents.” These women must plan very carefully during their periods. This may mean having extra products on hand, carefully choosing wardrobe and even avoiding certain activities. Normal life has disappeared, replaced with a rigorous regimen of preparation and precaution.
When fibroid symptoms become intolerable, many women undergo hysterectomy—the most common treatment for fibroids. But of the 600,000 hysterectomies performed in the United States each year, it is now estimated that 75% of these may be unnecessary.
There is a growing movement to reduce the number of unnecessary hysterectomies performed each year, which is now possible thanks to advances in technology. In fact, an article in AARP The Magazine called hysterectomy one of “4 surgeries to avoid.”
Fortunately, there is! Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a less invasive, FDA-approved and highly effective approach for treating fibroids. The procedure is performed by a specialized doctor called an interventional radiologist, who uses X-ray imaging to guide a catheter through the femoral artery in the groin to the uterine artery. When the catheter has reached the location of the fibroids, the radiologist embolizes or “blocks” the blood vessels that feed the fibroid, depriving it of oxygenated blood. The fibroid then shrinks, and the symptoms gradually disappear.
UFE is performed on an outpatient basis at Memphis Vascular Center. It takes less than an hour, and the patient may return home within 24 hours after the procedure. The doctors at MVC are among the region’s most experienced professionals at performing UFE, and have undergone additional 1-2 years of subspecialty training to perform this procedure.
Women who undergo UFE have experienced a high level of satisfaction and a significant improvement to their quality of life, even over the long term.1,2 In a recent study of four randomized clinical trials comparing UFE to surgical interventions, UFE was associated with less blood loss, a shorter hospital stay and a faster return to work.3
You may be a candidate for uterine fibroid embolization if you:
Are experiencing the symptoms of uterine fibroids
Are not or no longer wish to become pregnant
Are seeking an alternative to hysterectomy (removal of the uterus)
Wish to avoid surgery or are a poor candidate for surgery
It is not known the long-term effects that UFE has on a woman’s ability to become pregnant. If you decide on UFE, becoming pregnant in the future can be extremely difficult, although some women have had successful pregnancies after UFE. As with all medical procedures, talk to your doctor if you have questions, and to help determine if UFE is right for you.
1 Smith WJ,Upton E, Shuster EJ, Klein AJ, Schwartz ML.Patient satisfaction and disease specific quality of life after uterine arteryembolization. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2004;190(6):1697–1703.
2 Scheurig-Muenkler C, Koesters C, Powerski MJ, Grieser C, Froeling V, Kroencke TJ. Clinical long-term outcome after uterine artery embolization: sustained symptom control and improvement of quality of life. J Vasc Interv Radiol. 2013;24(6):765–771
3 Laughlin SK, Schroeder JC, Baird DD. New directions in the epidemiology of uterine fibroids. Semin Reprod Med. 2010;28(3):204–217