By: Diana Barnes-Brown for Fibroids1
For patients and doctors familiar with the problems of uterine fibroids, uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) has made a name for itself as the “next big thing” on the market. But some remained reluctant to try the procedure until data on longer-term success rates was available.
Recently, however, data presented at the 30th Annual Meeting of the Society of Interventional Radiologists (SIR) has shown that UFE has a five-year success rate of roughly 75 percent, adding to excitement about the new wonder treatment and increasing skeptics’ confidence.
The idea behind UFE is a simple one: Fibroids – noncancerous tumors in the uterus, uterine wall, or appending from the uterus – require a large supply of blood to flourish, so if the supply is cut off, the fibroids die. How to achieve this goal, however, was a challenge that women’s health experts struggled with for many years.
Enter UFE, a procedure that involves the injection of tiny plastic particles into the artery that feeds, so that they can flow to smaller circulatory pathways and block the blood supply from within, all without cutting into the uterus or surrounding structures. The procedure is minimally invasive, relatively pain-free, and sends patients home the same day with few after-effects.
To supporters, UFE was just short of a miracle cure for fibroids, a disorder that only 10 years before was thought to be best cured by hysterectomy – surgery to completely remove the uterus, associated with a long, painful recovery as well as irreversible effects for fertility, hormonal balances within the body, and other serious drawbacks. (Fibroids are still the cause of an estimated 200,000 hysterectomies annually.) Still, some doctors and patients felt the need for more caution pending proof of long-term success.
The recent study, led by James B. Spies M.D., a professor of Interventional Radiology at Georgetown University Medical Center, followed 200 patients who had undergone UFE, and found that of the 182 patients who completed the five-year follow-up period, 73 percent remained symptom-free, while 20 percent had “either failed or recurred with new fibroids,” according to the study. Among the group of patients who failed to respond to the treatment or experienced a recurrence of symptoms or fibroids, there were 25 hysterectomies (four of which were not fibroid-related), six myomectomies, and three “repeat embolizations.”
“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 non-surgical option,” noted Spies. “The results are comparable to myomectomy, a procedure in which the fibroids are surgically removed, but UFE is less invasive, and women recover from it more quickly.” The next step, he added, is to research and compare rates of failure and success with patient demographics, to help doctors determine which treatment is best for which patients.