New Fixes for Uterine Fibroids

Female? Over 40? You’ve probably got fibroids, benign tumors of the uterus that grow unnoticed for years before causing symptoms. There’s no one solution, but many different treatment options available. Six women shared what worked for them.

By Gail McBride

Sound Waves & Low-Energy Current

The Fix: Destroying fibroids with sound waves

The Deciding Factor: "I wanted a noninvasive treatment that my insurance would cover."

The Woman: Keri Breit, 43

Breit, a meeting planner, first noticed symptoms four or five years ago. Her periods had become very long and heavy, her abdomen looked swollen, and she became anemic. An ultrasound exam showed a fibroid the size of a small grapefruit. "In my line of work, I often have to be on-site from early morning to late at night," she says. "Running to the bathroom every hour or so was not only getting in the way, it was also embarrassing." Breit considered UAE, but there were insurance issues. Her interventional radiologist suggested MRI-guided focused ultrasound, which is also minimally invasive, has a quick recovery time and entails much less pain than UAE does.

MRI-guided ultrasound uses sound waves, which produce heat, to get rid of fibroids. You lie facedown inside the MRI machine while high-energy ultrasound waves are focused on a specific fibroid, destroying all or part of it. It takes more than one burst of energy to destroy a fibroid, and the treatment may take several hours, during which time you’re slightly sedated but conscious so you can communicate with the doctors. There’s very little pain, and the few adverse reactions have included minor skin burns and nerve injuries.

More than 1,200 women have undergone this treatment, which appears to work best for those who have one or two moderate-size fibroids. Breit’s radiologist told her that her large fibroid size was a possible problem, but that the location of the tumor was advantageous for ultrasound. Her procedure lasted four hours. She hit the emergency call button a couple of times because of pain shooting down her leg; the doctors readjusted the focus of the ultrasound and gave her more pain medication through an IV line. Afterward she was tired — she took a couple of days off — but otherwise had almost no side effects. Her radiologist told her they had been able to treat 80 percent of the fibroid and that this one, at least, would not grow back. Now Breit is down to two or three heavy days during her period instead of five. Because she’s still having symptoms and a follow-up exam showed that the original fibroid is still there, her ob-gyn recently put her on progesterone for 10 days a month to lessen her bleeding. She is also taking iron to guard against anemia and has lost 10 pounds. Her abdomen has also flattened.

MRI-guided ultrasound is FDA-approved and is offered at about 20 centers across the country. It may cost up to $20,000, and approval by your insurance company is mandatory. For more information and a listing of treatment sites, call 866-392-2528.

 

The Fix: Eliminating fibroids with low-energy current

The Deciding Factor: "I wanted a short recovery time."

The Woman: Lori Geiger, 49

When Geiger’s ob-gyn first diagnosed her with fibroids, she recommended a hysterectomy. Geiger hadn’t been planning to have more children (she has twins), and removing her uterus would eliminate her complaints of heavy bleeding and cramping. "I would bleed through the thick overnight pads at work," recalls Geiger, an accountant, "and I took four or five Advils every couple of hours." But she rejected surgery. "I wanted to keep my original body parts."

In 2002, as her symptoms intensified, she consulted a new gynecologist, Bruce B. Lee, MD, director of gynecologic surgery at the Monterey Peninsula Surgical Center, in California. He told her about a procedure called Halt, which he had developed and said was especially good at removing large and very small fibroids. (Since 1999, Lee has treated about 1,100 fibroids in hundreds of patients.)

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