Ultrasound Relieves Uterine Fibroid Symptoms

A recently approved treatment for uterine fibroids (search) may help some women avoid hysterectomy and get relief from symptoms such as pain and bleeding.

A new study shows that MRI-guided ultrasound therapy significantly improved uterine fibroid symptoms and improved the quality of life in nearly 80 percent of the women treated, who would have otherwise been offered a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus).

Uterine fibroids affect about 20-40 percent of women over 35. Often these noncancerous growths of the uterus do not cause symptoms or require treatment, but in some cases, the size and location of growths can cause heavy menstrual periods; pain in the back, legs, or pelvis; pressure on the bowels or bladder; and miscarriage.

The FDA approved MRI-guided ultrasound therapy using the ExAblate 2000 (search) system for the treatment of uterine fibroids in October. The treatment uses MRI images to plan and guide focused ultrasound waves that destroy fibroid tissue.

Other treatments for uterine fibroids include hormone therapy, surgical removal of the growths while leaving the uterus intact, or a hysterectomy. However, many women seek alternatives to these therapies because they want to have children or do not wish to have their uterus removed despite having completed childbearing.

New Option in Uterine Fibroid Treatment

In the study, which appears in the December issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology, researchers evaluated the safety and effectiveness of MRI-guided ultrasound therapy in treating 109 women with uterine fibroids who would otherwise have been offered a hysterectomy due to the severity of their symptoms.

Six months after the treatment, the study showed that 79.3 percent of the women reported a significant improvement in their uterine fibroid symptoms and overall quality of life.

The average reduction in fibroid volume six months after treatment was 13.5 percent.

Researchers say although the reduction in uterine fibroid volume was moderate, the improvement in symptoms is encouraging.

In addition, updated study results not published in the journal suggest that the improvements are maintained at least a year after the treatment.

Of the side effects reported in the study, only one of them, leg and buttock pain, was thought to be directly related to the treatment device.

"There were several instances where patients had prolonged menstrual bleeding, but this was not any different than what they had experienced before the procedure so this was probably secondary to the underlying problem rather than a result of the treatment," says researcher Wladyslaw Gedroyc, MD, of St. Mary’s Hospital and the Imperial College School of Medicine in London, in a news release.

Researchers say the success of MRI-guided ultrasound in treating uterine fibroids may also lead to utilization of this technology in treating other conditions, such as solid organ cancer tumors.

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Hindley, J. American Journal of Roentgenology, December 2004; vol 183: pp 1713-1719. WebMD Medical News: “Ultrasound Approved to Treat Uterine Fibroids.”