Fibroid Embolization: An Alternative to Hysterectomy?


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Fibroids are non-cancerous, but can cause excessive pain and heaviness in the pelvis, frequent urination and heavy bleeding during periods. Many women have been told that a hysterectomy is their only permanent treatment option, which usually takes about six weeks for a full recovery. But a minimally-invasive procedure can offer women a quicker recovery.

Forty-one-year-old Venita Gowdy doesn’t want to miss a second of her kids’ lives.

“Not only do I have a swimmer, but a basketball player and a football player,” Gowdy said.

But a fibroid problem caused Gowdy to have pain and heavy bleeding during menstrual cycles that would sometimes cause embarrassing leaks.

“Going to the bathroom every 30 minutes and missing things. My son is six years old, so I thought I was done carrying diaper bags, but I was actually carrying one for myself,” Gowdy shared.

Gowdy’s problem is not uncommon. Over 50 percent of women in the U.S. will develop a uterine fibroid by the time they are 50 years old. Even though not all fibroids cause symptoms, the ones that do …

“Can cause quite a bit of disruption to a woman’s life,” said A.J. Gunn, MD, Assistant Professor of Radiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. (Read Full Interview)

Doctor AJ Gunn thought Gowdy would be a perfect candidate for a fibroid embolization.

“She came in. We were able to treat her through just a small pinhole in her wrist,” explained doctor Gunn.

Then using x-ray guidance, Dr. Gunn was able to find the blood vessels that were feeding the fibroid and block them with tiny particles. Without blood supply, the fibroids starved and died off.

“We’re about 85 to 90 percent successful in controlling the symptoms within the first year. And if you look out to about five to ten years we’re about 75 percent successful in keeping them from ever having to get a hysterectomy,” stated Dr. Gunn.

Two weeks later Gowdy’s symptoms were completely gone. That means her kids’ number one fan is back 100 percent.

Gowdy said happily, “Not worrying about anything and just sit there and enjoy them.”

Doctor Gunn says that fibroid embolization is currently being vastly underutilized and less than 50 percent of women are being counseled about the treatment option, even though many more women would qualify for the treatment.

Contributors to this news report include: Milvionne Chery, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Robert Walko, Editor.


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FIBROIDS: Fibroids are one of the most frequently seen tumors in the female reproductive system. Also known as uterine myomas, leiomyomas, or fibromas; they are firm and compact tumors that are made of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue which develop in the uterus. Between 20 to 50 percent of women of reproductive age have fibroids, although not all are diagnosed. In more than 99 percent of fibroid cases the tumors are non-cancerous and do not increase a woman’s risk for uterine cancer. They range in size, from the size of a pea to a softball or grapefruit. It is not clearly known what causes fibroids, but it is believed that the tumors develop from an aberrant muscle cell in the uterus which multiplies rapidly because of the influence of estrogen. Women who are approaching menopause are at the greatest risk for fibroids because of their long exposure to high levels of estrogen.



HYSTERECTOMIES: Uterine fibroids are responsible for more hysterectomies than any other health condition. A hysterectomy is the surgical removal of the uterus. There are different types of hysterectomies that can be performed for fibroids. A total hysterectomy involves both the uterus and cervix being completely removed. A sub-total hysterectomy or partial hysterectomy leaves the cervix intact but the rest of the uterus is removed. Many doctors will remove the cervix automatically as a precaution against cervical cancer. Bilateral Salpingo-oophorectomy is an operation to remove the ovaries and/or fallopian tubes; this is a separate decision which a patient and her doctor will make before the surgery is performed. An abdominal hysterectomy is performed through an incision in the stomach, while a vaginal hysterectomy is performed though the vagina. Laparoscopic hysterectomy is a newer and more sophisticated procedure in which the organs are visualized and manipulated though a laparoscope and the uterus is removed either vaginally or through a small incision in the abdomen.



FIBROID EMBOLIZATION: Uterine Artery Embolization is a non-invasive, non-surgical, and out-patient procedure that is performed under local anesthetic and sedation, and boasts a quick recovery time. Most patients are back to work in a few days. An incision the size of a freckle is made in the upper thigh. A tiny catheter is then inserted though this incision and into the femoral artery. Using X-ray guidance, a trained physician locates the arteries responsible for supplying blood to each fibroid. Microscopic particles are injected into the blood vessel, blocking the blood supply that nourishes the fibroid. Without this steady blood supply, the fibroids begin to dwindle and shrink. Essentially embolization cures fibroids by starving them. The procedure itself takes about 45-minutes to one hour.

(Source: and AJ Gunn, MD)



AJ Gunn, MD

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