Treat Uterine Fibroids Without Surgery

Minimally invasive, same-day outpatient procedure: an alternative to hysterectomy.

When Rose* was in college, she became enamored with the characters of the Japanese alphabet and set out to learn the language. Today, her fluency is key to the success of her thriving business, which hosts guided tours of Japan. 

Rose conceived the idea for her venture while living and teaching in the Land of the Rising Sun.

“Tourism in Japan was very low until around 2010,” Rose discloses. “But the increase in tourism at that time brought a lot of cultural misunderstanding and problems with language, and many people vacationing in Japan needed assistance. I started my business to help with that.

“Now, I live in Florida and travel to Japan twice a year. I take five tours in the spring and five tours in the fall. During the off times, I assist people who want to visit Japan without a tour to plan their trips.”

Six years ago, Rose began to experience severe pain during her monthly periods that was worse than her usual menstrual cramps. The pain grew so intense that she often missed days from work. Concerned, Rose visited a physician who diagnosed her with uterine fibroids, noncancerous growths in the uterus.

“Over time, things began to spiral out of control,” Rose remembers. “The pain started to last longer and my bleeding became much heavier until the real problem became excessive bleeding and not so much the pain.”

Things went from bad to worse when she was diagnosed with anemia, a deficiency of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, due to her bleeding. Her iron level (hematocrit) plummeted to 21 percent. Normal for a healthy female is between 35 and 45 percent. Rose was prescribed iron pills, but her bleeding became heavier, and she couldn’t maintain a healthy iron level. She was experiencing extreme fatique from her anemia.

“In May of this year, I ended up hemorrhaging and calling an ambulance to take me to the emergency room,” Rose recounts. “My blood pressure was dangerously low; my heart rate was dangerously high; and I had to get an emergency blood transfusion.

“After that, I saw a gynecologist who said I needed a hysterectomy [the surgical removal of the uterus], and there was no other option. I was really upset. Over the years, I tried many natural things to heal myself, and I didn’t want a hysterectomy, so he referred me to Dr. Dunfee.”

Brian L. Dunfee, MD, is a board-certified vascular and interventional radiologist at Interventional & Vascular Center in Melbourne. He and his partner, Robert J. Kennedy, MD, also a board-certified vascular and interventional radiologist, use minimally invasive, image-guided techniques to treat conditions such as uterine fibroids.

One such treatment is an outpatient procedure called uterine fibroid embolization that destroys fibroids and spares the uterus, which produces hormones women need later in life. The cutting-edge procedure has often replaced the need for a hysterectomy in most women, despite not often being offered by gynecologists. Following a detailed review of Rose’s medical history and an examination, Dr. Dunfee recommended she undergo uterine fibroid embolization.

“Dr. Dunfee said he could take care of my fibroids without a hysterectomy,” Rose relates. “He was very positive and had a lot of confidence. Moving forward with embolization felt like the right thing to do.”

Cascading Particles

Uterine fibroid embolization involves an angiogram, which is performed by placing a small tube through the groin artery into the uterine artery, the blood vessel supplying the uterus.

“Under x-ray guidance, we advance the tube and follow each uterine artery up to the uterus, where we inject a contrast dye,” Dr. Dunfee describes. “The fibroids light up with the dye, and we can see exactly where they are located as well as the number of fibroids and their size. We can also visualize the blood flow.

“We then inject small particles of a gelatin polymer into the uterine artery. These particles float through the bloodstream into the small capillary beds of the fibroids, shutting down their blood and oxygen supplies, causing them to essentially suffocate. Over the course of a few months, the fibroids shrink and no longer excessively bleed during a woman’s period. The shrunken fibroids then turn into scar tissue.”

“I’m definitely happy with my results. I should have gotten this procedure three or four years ago.” – Rose

“I was given a light sedative before the procedure, so I mostly slept while Dr. Dunfee worked,” Rose recalls. “But I do remember the end, when he told me everything went great. Dr. Dunfee warned me that there might be discomfort immediately afterward, and I did have some pain for a couple of days, but that eventually went away.”

“Uterine fibroid embolization is 98 percent effective on fibroids, and the 2 percent of patients who don’t respond can be retreated if necessary,” Dr. Dunfee observes. “The only thing that comes close is hysterectomy, which is 100 percent effective. But there are more complications associated with hysterectomy, including a risk of infection and several weeks of downtime, and even worse, the woman loses her uterus.

“Because embolization is minimally invasive, it has the fewest complications of any procedure to treat fibroids. And the fact that it is uterine-sparing is great for women who want to get pregnant in the future.”

“Active All Month”

Dr. Dunfee performed Rose’s uterine fibroid embolization in July. Within a couple of months she was already seeing positive results from the procedure.

“I’ve had three periods since the embolization, and my bleeding is significantly lighter,” Rose reports. “I used to get scared before my period because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. But ever since I had the procedure, I’m not scared at all.

“I’m still having menstrual cramps, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it was. Before, the pain I experienced on the first and second days of my period was so intense that I got nauseated and vomited. It was unbelievable, a 10 on a scale on one to 10.

“Now, the pain on the first day of my period is around a six or seven, and it doesn’t last. By the second and third day, the pain is maybe a two. I can take ibuprofen and it actually helps. Before, ibuprofen didn’t help at all.”

Rose describes herself as fairly active. She likes to do yoga, walk and ride her bicycle. But the heavy bleeding during her periods often kept her from those activities and dampened her mood.
“I would be out of commission for four or five days every month,” Rose states. “My iron was so low, all I could really do was lie on the couch or bed. That really got me down. But I can be active all month now.

“I’m definitely happy with my results. I should have gotten this procedure three or four years ago, when I first noticed the bleeding getting heavier. For those women suffering with fibroids, I recommend getting embolization before their condition gets out of control.”

*Patient’s name changed at her request.
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