Preliminary research suggests that a new drug treatment shrinks uterine fibroids and helps women with the noncancerous tumors retain their fertility.

About Uterine Fibroids

Uterine fibroids, which cause abdominal pain and heavy menstrual bleeding, are a leading cause of hysterectomy. They can also contribute to miscarriage.

"Both the fibroids and the surgical interventions commonly used to treat them can cause significant fertility problems," said Alicia Armstrong, MD, chief of gynecologic services at the National Institutes of Health's Program for Reproductive and Adult Endocrinology.

Research Findings

In two new studies, researchers tested a drug called ulipristal acetate (brand name ellaOne), which blocks ovulation and is used as a form of emergency contraception. It works by adjusting the body's reaction to the presence of the hormone progesterone.

In the studies, 57 women, ages 25 to50, with uterine fibroids were randomly assigned to receive treatment with the drug or a placebo. They took the pills once a day for three menstrual cycles.

The fibroids shrank in more of the women who took the drug versus the placebo, and those who took higher doses had better results. Women who took the drug also had less bleeding than those who took the placebo.

The studies show that the drug "is an effective noninvasive treatment for fibroids that can help maintain fertility in women whose only option up to now was to have surgery," said Lynnette Nieman, MD, a principal investigator with the studies.

The studies are both in Phase II, the second in three phases of research required before the federal government will approve a drug for a specific use.

The study findings were presented at a meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Rome.

Expert Commentary

Scott Chudnoff, MD, a gynecologist and uterine fibroid specialist, said the research could lead to significant new treatments for women with fibroids. But some women might not respond the same way to the treatment, and the fibroids may return when women stop taking the drug, said Dr. Chudnoff, who is director of gynecology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

Still, a new treatment would help doctors do a better job of personalizing their approach to individual patients, he said. The research, he added, is definitely promising."

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