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Gentler ways to treat fibroids

Fibroids—benign tumors that grow in clusters in the uterine wall—affect as many as four out of every 10 women. Because they often have no symptoms or apparent causes, they’re usually discovered during routine pelvic exams or during the course of prenatal care. Although they rarely become cancerous, fibroids can become large enough to cause heavy menstrual bleeding, frequent urination and severe pain.

Most of the time, doctors decide it’s best to simply leave fibroids alone—they normally stay small and grow slowly, if at all. But every now and then, fibroids cause an unhealthy medical situation. For instance, excessive menstruation from fibroids can lead to anemia, or a large fibroid tumor can make conceiving or delivering a baby very difficult.

Until a few years ago, major surgery to either remove the tumors (myomectomy) or the entire uterus (hysterectomy) were the only effective ways to treat advanced fibroids. Now, thanks to new minimally invasive procedures, women are facing hysterectomies and abdominal myomectomies less and less. Surgeons now can use:

  • Hysteroscopic resection. In this outpatient procedure, a tiny camera enters the uterus through the cervix, allowing doctors to find and snip tumors growing in the uterine cavity.
  • Uterine artery embolization. Because tumors need plenty of blood, cutting their supply causes them to wither. In this procedure, catheters slid into the arteries surrounding the tumors inject a solution that permanently closes them.
  • Laparoscopic surgery. A miniature TV camera (the “scope”) enters the uterus through a tiny incision just below the navel. Then doctors cut and remove the tumors with a knife mounted on the scope.

Note: See your doctor right away if you experience a sudden increase in the severity of fibroid symptoms, such as extreme menstrual bleeding or excessive abdominal pain. These could be signs of cancer.