Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths that develop on or within the wall of the uterus. While many women are not aware they have uterine fibroids, millions of others suffer a wide range of symptoms including heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding, frequent urination and, in some cases, severe pelvic pain or pressure.
The most common treatment for painful fibroids is a hysterectomy—a major operation involving removal of the uterus. But a non-surgical treatment available at Saddleback Medical Center now offers women an option that is far less invasive.
Called uterine fibroid embolization (UFE), the procedure is performed by an interventional radiologist in an angiography suite. It requires a tiny incision in the groin, through which a catheter is threaded into the arteries that supply blood to the uterus. The radiologist uses X-ray technology to guide the way. Microspheres—tiny sand-like particles—are then released through the catheter, forming a barrier that blocks the fibroid’s blood supply.
“Most of the painful symptoms women experience from fibroids occur when the growths become too large,” says interventional radiologist Lokesh Arora, M.D. “By robbing the fibroid of its blood supply, we cause it to shrink and degenerate.” Studies show that almost 90 percent of women who have had UFE experience significant or complete resolution of their fibroid-related symptoms. Furthermore, it’s rare for new fibroids to develop after UFE. Because the UFE procedure is minimally invasive, there’s no need for a large incision, general anesthesia or a lengthy hospital stay. “Most women can resume normal activities in about a week, versus six weeks for a hysterectomy,” says Dr. Arora.