Uterine fibroids are causing quite a lot of trouble for quite a lot of women in their childbearing years. The common benign, non-cancerous growths in a woman's uterus cause infertility, heavy bleeding, chronic pelvic pain and a host of other issues in at least one third of all women. Fibroids are the number one cause of hysterectomies.
But experts are looking for other ways and means to give women relief from fibroids.
The latest method involves the insertion of a small electrode through a tiny incision. Radiofrequency energy passes heat on through to the fibroid, causing it to shrink.
As Dr. Erica Banks of New York City's Montefiore Medical Center explains, "Women still feel they need more options, justifiably so." Montefiore Medical Center is one of six medical centers testing the new radiofrequency ablation procedure.
But other procedures have already received approval as alternatives to the drastic step of removing a woman's womb. A major study is underway to determine which of these two techniques, uterine artery embolization or focused ultrasound, has a better outcome for women. A spokeswoman for the National Institutes of Health, which is providing the funds for this study by Duke University and the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Estella Parrott says, "Patients are maybe surprised there is no research that has definitive answers at this point on which procedure is best for their predominant symptom."
Radiofrequency ablation has been in use for quite a while, though its application has been limited to treating lung and liver cancers. The technique employs low-energy heat that targets and destroys tissue at specific points, sparing surrounding tissue and organs from damage. The device produced by Halt Medical Inc., requires three small abdominal incisions to treat fibroids. One incision is for a camera, another for an ultrasound probe which provides a precise picture of the site, plus the incision through which a needle-like device is inserted into the fibroid where it delivers a dose of heat.
Dr. Howard Sharp, of the University of Utah, and a fibroid spokesman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that RF ablation, "looks very promising," in terms of short-term shrinking of the fibroid tumors, but cautions that no one knows how long the results last.
Hysterectomy remains a popular treatment since removal of the uterus guarantees the fibroids cannot return. In the U.S. 600,000 hysterectomies are performed every year. Fibroids are the primary cause for 240,000 of these procedures.