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With embolization, women can get rid of uterine fibroids without long recovery
BY MARCIA A. CHIDESTER
FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR
It was June 2007 and Carolyn Neff wanted desperately to attend her daughter's wedding in England. But a trip to Europe seemed unthinkable.
The fibroids Neff had had for 20 years had caused continuous bleeding for four solid months. The Stafford County resident didn't have enough room in her suitcase for two weeks' worth of products that would protect her clothes from the leakage.
If she made it to England, she couldn't count on having a bathroom close at hand for a menstrual-flow emergency. And Neff, 53, was losing so much blood that a transfusion seemed imminent.
Hysterectomy was an option, but there wasn't enough time to recover before the wedding.
Then Neff's gynecologist told her about uterine fibroid embolization, a procedure in which fibroids are shrunk by cutting off their blood supply.
An embolization is minimally invasive, takes 90 minutes to perform, requires only an overnight hospital stay, and recovery time is two weeks tops, the doctor said. After-procedure pain was predicted to be light to medium.
The procedure would prevent total removal of Neff's uterus. She could also avoid the side effects of a hysterectomy. Best of all, she would make it to the wedding.
Count me in, Neff said.
The surgery was performed two days later.
"It saved my life," she said.
WHAT ARE FIBROIDS?
As many as 75 percent of childbearing-age women have fibroids, non-cancerous tumors that grow in the uterine wall. While no one knows exactly what causes them, researchers suspect hormones are the culprit.
The tumors can cause heavy bleeding such as Neff experienced, which can lead to anemia.
Most fibroids are less than 1 centimeter in size, but some grow big enough to cause painful pressure on the bladder, bowels and spine.
"Fibroids tend to be hard, so when they push on something, they really push," said Don Doherty, interventional radiologist at Virginia Interventional and Vascular Associates.
Doherty is one of only a handful of specialists in the Fredericksburg area who perform the procedure by using imaging techniques.
Gynecologists can detect fibroids in a physical exam, and confirm the diagnosis with an ultrasound, said Fredericksburg gynecologist Tammy Leonard.
Interventional radiologists usually perform uterine fibroid embolization. These specialists use imaging technology to guide them as they insert a catheter into the patient's groin. They then inject microparticles into the arteries that supply the uterine fibroids. The particles cause the fibroids to shrink by cutting off their blood supply.
You might choose uterine artery embolization if you are premenopausal and:
You have severe pain or heavy bleeding from uterine fibroids.
Surgery is too risky for you or you want to retain your uterus.
Optimizing pregnancy is not your chief concern.