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Uterine Fibroid Embolization Helps Women Avoid Hysterectomies

Fibroid tumors of the uterus are benign, but they create enough pain, pressure and bleeding so that more than 200,000 American women every year get a hysterectomy, the surgical removal of the uterus. Another 400,000 hysterectomies are performed every year for other reasons.

For Marie Epperson of Phoenix, the first day of her period was so awful, she missed work.

"I was having such severe pain that I would be stopped in my tracks for 24 hours. There were times, I couldn't move," said Epperson, 48.

Free Seminars on Uterine Fibroids

6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009

At the Cowden Center, 9202 N. Second St., Phoenix, on the campus of John C. Lincoln North Mountain Hospital. Map

10 to 11 a.m.
Saturday, Oct. 24

At John C. Lincoln Deer Valley Hospital's Medical Office Building 1, Fourth Floor Conference Room, 19841 N. 27th Ave. (I-17 and Loop 101), Phoenix. Map

Interventional radiologists Aaron Wittenberg, MD, and Aubrey Palestrant, MD, will be the speakers.

To register:
Email rsvp@JCL.com at least three days before the seminar.

More at JCL.com/ufe.

Epperson's physician suggested birth control pills — hormonal therapy — or a hysterectomy. Concerned about a history of cancer in her family and complications associated with a hysterectomy, Epperson chose a third and less-invasive option for treatment: uterine fibroid embolization, or UFE.

A fibroid is a muscular tumor that depends on the blood supply to live. UFE cuts off the blood supply to the fibroid, which then shrinks and dies. Without blood, the fibroid cannot grow back.

How is this uterine fibroid treatment peformed? A tiny catheter wire is threaded through the femoral artery to the arteries that supply the uterus with blood; an X-ray is used for guidance. The patient has a mild sedative but is conscious. Tiny beads, Embosphere Microspheres, are injected through the catheter. The spheres — so tiny you can barely see them with the naked eye — float through the artery and plug up the tiny vessels that supply blood to the fibroids.

The procedure takes about an hour. Typically patients will have some pain and cramping, but after three days, most patients can return to their normal routine.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now recommends UFE as an effective and valuable treatment for fibroids, an important shift in treatment recommendations.

Before this, gynecologists typically would have recommended hormonal therapy or hysterectomy, but now the data supports UFE, said Aaron Wittenberg, MD, an interventional radiologist with John C. Lincoln Hospitals. In a study of 10,000 patients who had undergone UFE, 95 percent of patients were satisfied with the procedure and would make the same choice again. See this comparison between hysterectomy and UFE for treating uterine fibroids.

"It's very effective," Wittenberg said. "Condoleezza Rice had it done. She had fibroids that caused a lot of pain and bleeding, and with uterine fibroid embolization, she was only off work three or four days."

A hysterectomy requires several weeks of recovery. Women also may want to preserve their fertility because fibroids typically occur in women ages 35 to 50. Another alternative to a hysterectomy is a myomectomy, in which the fibroids are cut out, but often a high rate of regrowth occurs, Dr. Wittenberg said, and symptoms return.

Epperson, a single parent, appreciated the quick recovery. She had the procedure on a Thursday afternoon and returned to work on Monday. More than a year later, she is pain free.

"I feel wonderful and great," she said. "You don't have the incision, you don't have the complications. I would be willing to put a bumper sticker on my car that says 'No to hysterectomy. Yes to UFE' to get the word out. I would recommend it to everybody."

Learn more about uterine fibroid embolization at John C. Lincoln at JCL.com/UFE.

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