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Radiological Treatments for Fibroids

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Radiologic (pronounced rey-dee-uh-LOJ-ik) treatments (also called radiation therapy or radiotherapy) use ionizing (pronounced AHY-uh-nahyz-ng) radiation, similar to what you are exposed to when you get an X-ray, to treat fibroids.

Radiologic treatments might be indicated if you want a minimally invasive option that avoids surgery and typically involves a short hospital stay. Before undergoing any treatment for uterine fibroids, you should discuss your options with your health care provider.

Uterine Artery Embolization (UAE)

Uterine artery embolization (pronounced YOO­-te-r­in AR-ter-ee em-bohl-ih-ZAY-shun), or UAE, is also called uterine fibroid embolization (UFE). This procedure cuts off the blood supply to the fibroids, causing them to shrink and be reabsorbed by your body.

In this procedure, the doctor makes a small cut in the groin area and inserts a tube (called a catheter) into the large blood vessel there. The doctor slides the tube until it reaches the arteries that supply blood to the uterus and then injects tiny particles through the tube into the arteries. The particles block blood flow to the fibroids. Blocking the blood flow eventually shrinks the fibroids and may relieve symptoms.1,2

Recovery from UAE takes less time than does recovery from a hysterectomy. Some research has shown that UAE successfully treats fibroids but that about one-third of women who have UAE need treatment again within five years.3

Because this procedure stops blood flow to parts of the uterus, it can affect how the uterus functions. It can also affect future ovarian function if the inserted particles drift into other areas of the pelvis such as the ovarian artery. Its effect on pregnancy is not clear, but an increased risk of miscarriage has been reported. For this reason, most health care providers do not recommend UAE for women who want to have children.

Silhouette of pelvic area with uterine artery embolization (UAE) procedure illustrated. Catheter, femoral artery, fibroids, uterus, and uterine artery are labeled.

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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)­-Guided Ultrasound

This treatment destroys fibroids using high-intensity ultrasound. The health care provider uses an MRI scanner to see the fibroids, then directs ultrasound waves through the skin to destroy the fibroids. This option is usually recommended for women who have only a few large fibroids.4

Scientists are still studying the long-term effects of this procedure.4 Current research shows that up to 25% of women who have MRI-guided ultrasound need a second procedure after one year.5 Because MRI-guided ultrasound is new, your health care provider may not offer it or your health insurance company may not pay for it. It may also affect ovarian function.

Patient undergoing MRI-guided ultrasound surgery lies face down in an MRI scanner. Fibroid and ultrasound focused on the patient’s abdomen are labeled.

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  1. Evans, P., & Brunsell, S. (2007). Uterine fibroid tumors: Diagnosis and treatment. American Family Physician 75(10), 1503-1508. Retrieved from http://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/0515/p1503.html External Web Site Policy.[top]
  2. National Library of Medicine. (2012, August 11). Uterine artery embolization. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007384.htm.[top]
  3. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). (2005). The FIBROID Registry: Report of Structure, Methods, and Initial Results. (AHRQ Publication No. 05[06]-RG008). Retrieved from http://archive.ahrq.gov/research/fibroid/fibsum.htm.[top]
  4. Berger, L. (2008, October 23). A Decade of Developments in Fibroid Research. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/ref/health/healthguide/esn-fibroids-expert.html External Web Site Policy.[top]
  5. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). (2009). Uterine fibroids. Retrieved from http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq074.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20121015T1425097855 External Web Site Policy (PDF - 366 KB).[top]

Last Updated Date: 01/21/2014
Last Reviewed Date: 12/18/2013
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