By: Diana Barnes-Brown for Fibroids1
There are a number of treatment options for fibroids, with new adjustments and improvements occurring periodically. This is good news for fibroids sufferers, because it means that they have a variety of cutting-edge treatment options to choose from. At the same time, the amount of information can seem overwhelming.
The treatments listed below are the most common – and safest – treatments available today, and may be helpful as a quick-reference for patients who plan to discuss treatment options with their doctors.
Low-dose birth control pills
Uterine fibroid embolization
Alternative treatments including acupuncture and herbal remedies
Low-dose birth control pills have been used to control heavy or prolonged periods, as well as to control serious cramping and pain during periods. While some patients report success with these, others say they notice little improvement. Methods such as applying heat, exercising regularly, and eliminating caffeine can also help to alleviate the worst of these cramps, as can taking over-the-counter analgesics such as ibuprofen.
Other drugs that can be used to manage the symptoms of fibroids include anti-anemia drugs and iron supplements to counteract anemia and Gonadotropin-releasing hormone antagonists (GnRH-As) to reduce the size of the fibroids. These drugs work only while they are in the body, however, and once a patient stops taking them, the fibroids and their symptoms often return to “normal.”
For many women, the symptoms are too bothersome or disruptive to rely on management methods alone. These women may opt for one of a number of procedures, many of which are minimally invasive.
The advances in minimally invasive technology seen in the past 10 years or so have included better laparoscopes (small, telescope-like tools that can be inserted through tiny incisions and used to see inside the body and perform various surgical activities, such as cutting and sewing), and advances in ultrasound (the use of sound waves to create images of the inside of the body) and other ways of looking inside the body without the need to cut into the body.
Also, the advancement of a medical field called interventional radiology, which deals with minimally invasive surgical and imaging technologies and treatments using high-tech equipment, has meant that there is now a field devoted to eliminating the “to cut is to cure” mentality that many doctors currently note was prevalent in the medical industry a few decades ago.
Myomectomy is the surgical removal of fibroids. While this procedure used to be done via open surgery, most myomectomies can be done using laparoscopic techniques. There is a variation on laparoscopic methods known as robotic myomectomy, which uses robotic arms operated by doctors from a remote console to do the work of the surgery; this method is advantageous because the robotic arms are capable of more accurate movements than the human hand, reducing the chances of error.
High-frequency ultrasound can also be used to treat fibroids. This treatment involves sending targeted ultrasound rays into the body (these can be sent through the skin without cutting) to “cook” the fibroid tissue, causing the fibroid tissue to shrivel and die, after which it can be absorbed or expelled by the body. Other techniques that kill fibroid tissue include myolysis, which involves the insertion of an electrical probe via the cervix, and uses a targeted electrical current to kill the fibroid tissue, and cryomyolysis which uses the targeted application of cold to do the same.
One of the most talked-about treatments for uterine fibroids is uterine fibroid embolization, or UFE. This is a minimally invasive procedure during which a solution of tiny plastic spheres, each about the size of a fine grain of sand, is injected into the uterine artery via the femoral artery (an artery in the leg). Once in place, the plastic spheres, also called embolic agents, act to block off the blood supply to the fibroid, causing it to shrink and die. This method has proven highly effective and has a very short recovery time - patients can usually go home the same day – with very few side effects or post-procedural symptoms.
Alternative treatments for fibroids include acupuncture, which many woman report having had success with, and herbal remedies, which herbalists and their clients argue can change the hormonal balance in the body, causing fibroids to shrink or die.
While some women have had success with each of these methods, the best way to decide on an appropriate treatment for fibroids is to consult with an experienced doctor who is open-minded about the many options available. Also, since the symptoms of fibroids are similar to those of several other disorders – including cancer and certain STDs or other infections – women who think they have fibroids should go to a medical caregiver to have their diagnosis confirmed.