In recent years, interventional radiology has been used to treat uterine fibroids in a minimally invasive and very safe way. This is done through Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE), which is a safe and effective non-surgical option for women to consider when dealing with uterine fibroids. Before we explain what UFE is and how it works, it’s important to ask the question: “what are uterine fibroids?”
What Are Uterine Fibroids & How Does The Condition Affect Women?
Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous growths in the uterus. They typically occur in childbearing years, and may also be called leiomyoma, leiomyomata, myoma, or fibromyoma. They are the most common non-cancerous tumors of the female genital tract. In fact, 20-40% of women over the age of 35 have uterine fibroids of a significant size.
Uterine fibroids are made out of smooth muscle and fibrous connective tissue, and they can grow larger and cause symptoms and problems in some women. They are related to the hormone estrogen, and women with high quantities of estrogen are more likely to develop uterine fibroids than those with low levels.
What Are The Symptoms Of Uterine Fibroids?
· Pelvic pressure/pain
· Pain in the back and legs
· Unusual bleeding
· Prolonged menstrual periods
· Blood clots
· Abnormally enlarged abdomen
· Pain during intercourse
· Bladder pressure/frequent urge to urinate
· Bowel pressure/constipation and bloating
Uterine Fibroid Treatment Options
Uterine fibroids are typically diagnosed using MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans and ultrasound. If symptoms are present, then a radiologist may request that a patient undergo an MRI to see if there are alternate causes, and a gynecologist may do an ultrasound to view the fibroids.
Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is an interventional radiology (I.R.) procedure used to treat uterine fibroids. UFE is a simple, minimally invasive, image-guided procedure that stops the flow of blood to fibroids. Typically the only incision is a small nick in the groin near the femoral artery. An I.R. physician will insert a small catheter into this artery in the patient’s leg. He/she will then guide the catheter through the artery and into the uterus, where the catheter will release small particles (typically tiny gelatin beads called embosphere microspheres) to block the uterine arteries that supply blood to the fibroid. The lack of blood will cause the uterine fibroid to shrink and eventually disappear.
How Does Interventional Radiology Play A Role In Treatment?
Part of what makes uterine fibroid embolization a unique procedure and a part of the field of interventional radiology is the physician’s use of imaging to guide the procedure. The interventional radiologist will use real-time radiation imaging to increase the accuracy and precision of the procedure. That way they can see exactly what they are doing, and where the catheter is located. This allows them to release the blocking particles at exactly the right location to maximize their effectiveness in the uterus.
Are There Risks Associated With Uterine Fibroid Embolization?
The risks of UFE are low due to how minimally invasive the procedure is. Fibroids can be treated by traditional, open surgery, but this carries more risks. Typically, the less invasive a procedure is then the less risky it is. Some patients have gotten an infection from UFE, which is then treated with antibiotics. The chance of injury to the uterus in a UFE procedure is less than one percent, which means that most women who treat their fibroids with UFE are able to avoid needing a hysterectomy.
To learn more about uterine fibroid embolization and other interventional radiology procedures, contact our team at BICRAD to discuss your options. Our team is always on your side.