A nonsurgical treatment for uterine fibroids, known as uterine fibroid embolization (UFE), has a five-year success rate of 73%, according to a new study of 182 women.

UFE is an interventional radiology treatment that blocks the blood supply to fibroid tumors, causing them to shrink and die. Because it is minimally invasive, the treatment offers a faster recovery time than surgery and preserves the uterus-two factors that have made UFE increasingly popular.

The Future Is Now?

"Some gynecologists have been waiting for long-term data before being comfortable recommending the UFE procedure, and now that we have that data, I think patients will be hearing more about UFE as a nonsurgical option," says principal investigator Dr. James B. Spies, professor of interventional radiology at Georgetown University Medical Center.

"The (study results are comparable to myomectomy, a procedure in which the fibroids are surgically removed. However, UFE is less invasive, and women recover from it more quickly," Spies explains.

Myomectomy may be performed laparoscopically or through an abdominal incision.

"With any of the uterine-sparing treatments, growth of new fibroids is possible," he notes. However, the rate of recurrence after UFE is similar to that of myomectomy.

The next step is to determine which patients are best suited for each treatment, Spies says.

Uterine fibroids are common benign growths that develop in the muscular wall of the uterus. Fibroids result in approximately 200,000 hysterectomies annually.

What Are Uterine Fibroids?

Shrinking uterine fibroid tumors is better than having them surgically removed.

Uterine artery embolization (UAE), a minimally invasive procedure, cuts off the tumors' blood supply.

Women who undergo UAE sleep better and have fewer activity restrictions than those who have surgery. Recovery time also is faster. UAE patients can return to normal activities in about 15 days, compared with 44 days for surgical patients. UAE is effective for multiple fibroids, while surgery usually cannot remove them all.

Despite the advantages, many doctors don't mention UAE to patients. If your doctor doesn't be sure to ask.

Fibroids are benign tumors that affect 20% to 40% of women age 35 and older.

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