Health Watch -- Fibroid Embolization

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Major surgery isn't the only solution for women who have uterine fibroids.

Millions of American women have uterine fibroid tumors. These are non-cancerous growths in the uterus. Most of these cause no symptoms, but about a quarter of women with fibroids have heavy menstrual bleeding, pain and other symptoms. Nearly a third of all hysterectomies are performed because of fibroids.

But there is an alternative. Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas are performing a procedure called uterine fibroid embolization. This is a minimally invasive procedure that shrinks the fibroid tumors, so they're less likely to cause symptoms.

In this procedure, radiologists feed a catheter through an artery to the uterus. They then pass tiny particles through the catheter into blood vessels in the uterus. Because the fibroid tumors take up most of the blood flow in the uterus, these particles are drawn to the fibroids. The particles wedge into the blood vessels, blocking blood flow to the fibroids, which then shrink about 40 to 60 percent.

The procedure requires an overnight hospital stay and about a week for recovery, but that's much less than what's required for a hysterectomy. UT Southwestern doctors say most women go home the next day and are back at work in about a week. The doctors recommend an MRI as a pre-screening tool to show the exact location of the fibroids, as well as any other conditions that might be causing symptoms.

UT Southwestern doctors are also testing a medication that can reduce the size of fibroids.