This is an archived article. For the latest news, go to the Advance Homepage
For more archives, go to the Advance Archive/Search Page.

  February 11, 2002

New Surgical Procedure Offer
Alternative to Hysterectomy
By Kristina Goodnough

Women suffering from uterine fibroids can take advantage of a new surgical procedure at the Health Center's John Dempsey Hospital. The procedure is less invasive than hysterectomy, the traditional treatment for the problem.

The procedure is called uterine artery embolization, and it shrinks fibroids by blocking the arteries that supply them with blood.

"This is an innovative new treatment for the debilitating symptoms associated with uterine fibroids," says Michael Hallisey, an interventional radiologist who performs the procedure at Dempsey Hospital. "We have found that in most patients shrinking the fibroids makes the symptoms disappear.

"It is a much less invasive procedure than hysterectomy, which ends a woman's ability to become pregnant, and patients recover much more quickly," he adds.

The procedure, which takes about 11/2 hours, is usually performed as day surgery, although it occasionally requires an overnight stay in the hospital.

A catheter is inserted through a small cut in the top of the leg into the femoral artery and then into the uterine artery. Tiny particles of plastic or gelatin sponge are then injected into the artery. The particles flow to the fibroids, blocking the arteries that supply them with blood. When the blood flow is cut off, the tumors begin to shrink and break down, and are reabsorbed by the body.

Uterine fibroids are benign and fairly common tumors found in about 20 to 25 percent of women of childbearing age. Many women never experience any symptoms from them, but others suffer from heavy menstrual bleeding, and pelvic and urinary tract pain and pressure.

The presence of fibroids is the most common reason women in this country have a hysterectomy.

Studies indicate that 78 to 94 percent of the women who have the procedure experience significant or total relief from pain and other symptoms, and there is no evidence of recurrence of the fibroids in many of the women studied for up to six years following the procedure.

As with any surgical procedure, there are some risks and side effects. Most women experience moderate to severe pain and cramping after the procedure. Some have experienced infection, which is controlled with antibiotics. There is a small chance of injury to the uterus, potentially leading to hysterectomy.

Unlike hysterectomies, which end a woman's ability to become pregnant, the uterine arterial embolism does not always end childbearing. About 50 patients worldwide have become pregnant after the procedure. However, the procedure is usually done on women who no longer wish to have children, so few have tried to become pregnant. Studies are underway to determine the procedure's effect on fertility.