Not long ago, a diagnosis of uterine fibroids meant booking an operating room for a hysterectomy.
Luckily for those who suffer from them today, a new procedure that’s far less invasive is making hysterectomies for fibroids a thing of the past.
The new procedure, called radiofrequency thermal ablation, was performed last month for the first time on a fibroid patient in Charlotte at CMC-University’s Greater Carolinas Women’s Center.
“A lot of women love their uterus. They don’t want to lose it,” said Dr. Peter Schneider, a partner at Greater Carolinas Women’s Center. “This is a great way to preserve the uterus.”
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A number of surgical options have become available in the treatment of fibroids over the years. But all are considered invasive, cutting into healthy uterine tissue in order to extract or treat fibroids, requiring a longer recovery.
Radiofrequency thermal ablation is considered a less invasive treatment: A heated probe makes contact with a fibroid, which in time eradicates it.
“It just kind of melts it away and over the next few months, the fibroids will decrease in size,” said Schneider.
Radiofrequency thermal ablation is not a new technique. For the past decade it has been used to treat other kinds of tumors, like those on the liver. Last November the FDA approved it for treating fibroids.
Schneider believes this latest option will eventually become the most common one for fibroid treatment.
“Patients are back to work within a few days, and the amount of discomfort is a whole lot less than with the other procedures,” he said. “It should go ahead and replace these other more invasive techniques.”
The U.S. National Institutes of Health estimates that 80 to 90 percent of African-American women and 70 percent of Caucasian women will have fibroids by the time they reach 50, but only 30 percent of those will experience the symptoms of lower back pain and heavy bleeding.
Schneider said his practice treats a high number of fibroid sufferers who reside in our the region.
“We live in what we refer as the ‘fibroid belt.’ There are a lot of women with fibroids in the area,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s gotten worse. It’s just that more women are seeking help and getting treatment for their fibroids.”
When Wendy Endsley, 43, of Concord, developed sudden back pain that couldn’t be eased by ibuprofen or heating pads, her doctor at Greater Carolinas Women’s Center recommended radiofrequency thermal ablation.
“They found fibroids,” said Endsley, who could barely bend over without agony.
“There was no pain (from the procedure). It was like nothing had even happened,” she said. “It took a little over an hour. I haven’t had any back pain since.”
The fibroids treated won’t grow back, but that doesn’t mean the patient won’t have fibroids again.
“The problem with fibroids is that if there are little seeds, they’re not treated and they might have the opportunity to grow,” said Schneider. “It’s not that the fibroids are coming back, it’s that the little ones were given the opportunity to grow.”