In the United States alone, approximately 600,000 hysterectomies are performed each year, making it the second most commonly-performed procedure among women of childbearing age. Although hysterectomies can be used to treat issues like cancer and chronic pelvic pain, it is most often used as a treatment option for uterine fibroids.
Uterine fibroids will affect 75 percent of women at some point during their lifetime. For some women, these noncancerous tumors that grow on the uterine walls can be tiny and painless. For others, they can cause symptoms like heavy bleeding, constipation, frequent urination, pelvic pressure or pain, and pain in the legs or back.
Looking for relief from symptoms like these, many women turn to a hysterectomy.
“A hysterectomy is a solution to uterine fibroids, but it’s not the only option for relief from symptoms from uterine fibroids,” explains David Smoger, MD, interventional radiologist at Riddle Hospital.
Although hysterectomies provide relief from uterine fibroid symptoms, the procedure also has long-lasting effects. In addition to its long recovery period, a hysterectomy also prevents women from having children and, in some cases, can prompt early menopause.
But thanks to new techniques, Dr. Smoger says that women with uterine fibroids have more options for relief than ever before.
“A hysterectomy can be beneficial, but for younger groups of women who are affected for different options that won’t affect their reproductive health, there are other options available.”
Below, Dr. Smoger explores some of the newest medical procedures that women can explore in lieu of a hysterectomy.
Though this is technically not a medical procedure, watchful waiting can prove to be a better option for women whose fibroids are small and not causing them any painful symptoms. Your physician will closely monitor the size of your fibroids and symptoms and, should they get larger or worsen, you can consider other treatment options together.
Uterine fibroid (or artery) embolization (UFE/UAE)
A second minimally-invasive option for the treatment of uterine fibroids, UFE/UAE is a popular treatment option for women and can be used to safely treat most cases of uterine fibroids.
In addition to being a minimally-invasive option and offering a quick return to normal activities, UFE/UAE also offers relief to women with chronic bleeding and pain as a result of uterine fibroids. By injecting small particles into the uterine artery to restrict their blood supply, UFE/UAE causes fibroids to shrink and die over time. Once these fibroids have been destroyed, the majority of women experience relief from painful symptoms, too.
Although minimally invasive options like FUS and UFE/UAE have become the norm for many women being treated for uterine fibroids and their symptoms, there are some cases where more invasive options may be necessary.
Myomectomy procedures—which can be either laparoscopic, robotic, hysteroscopic, or abdominal— involve the surgical removal of fibroids from the uterus. While a laparoscopic or robotic myomectomy may be best for women who have very few or small fibroids, a hysteroscopic or abdominal myomectomy are reserved for more severe cases. Your physician can help you determine whether or not this option is best for you.
Unlike a hysterectomy, in most cases, a myomectomy can preserve uterine function and allow women to become pregnant at a future date.
Among all the options for uterine fibroid treatment, Dr. Smoger reminds women that there is no “best” option.
“Every woman’s experience with uterine fibroids is different. Some women may experience little to no symptoms, some women may find their daily lives are interrupted by them,” he says. “If you’re experiencing symptoms and trying to determine which treatment option is best, talk to your physician. You can work together to find the option that best suits your needs.”
Focused ultrasound surgery (FUS)
One of the newer options for uterine fibroid treatment, an FUS uses a high-energy ultrasound to precisely locate, heat, and destroy fibroids tissues in the uterus using sound waves. FUS is a non-invasive procedure that is performed on an outpatient basis, which makes it an appealing option for many women who are looking for a quick return to normal activities.
The interventional radiologists at Main Line Health offer minimally invasive alternatives to major surgery for many common conditions. To schedule an appointment, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.