Fibroids are the most frequently seen tumors of the female reproductive system. Fibroids, also known as uterine myomas, leiomyomas, or fibromas, are firm, compact tumors that are made of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue that develop in the uterus. It is estimated that between 20 to 50 percent of women of reproductive age have fibroids, although not all are diagnosed.
In more than 99 percent of fibroid cases, the tumors are benign (non-cancerous). These tumors are not associated with cancer and do not increase a woman’s risk for uterine cancer. They may range in size, from the size of a pea to the size of a softball or small grapefruit.
Some women who have fibroids have no symptoms, or have only mild symptoms, while other women have more severe, disruptive symptoms. The following are the most common symptoms for uterine fibroids, however, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms of uterine fibroids may include:
- Heavy or prolonged menstrual periods
- Abnormal bleeding between menstrual periods
- Pelvic pain (caused as the tumor presses on pelvic organs)
- Frequent urination
- Low back pain
- Pain during intercourse
- A firm mass, often located near the middle of the pelvis, which can be felt by the physician
In some cases, the heavy or prolonged menstrual periods, or the abnormal bleeding between periods, can lead to iron-deficiency anemia, which also requires treatment.
In general, treatment for fibroids may include:
- Hysterectomy which means the surgical removal of the entire uterus
- Conservative surgical therapy. Conservative surgical therapy uses a procedure called a myomectomy. With this approach, physicians will remove the fibroids, but leave the uterus intact to enable a future pregnancy.
- Gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists (GnRH agonists). This approach lowers levels of estrogen and triggers a “medical menopause.” Sometimes GnRH agonists are used to shrink the fibroid, making surgical treatment easier.
- Anti-hormonal agents. Certain drugs oppose estrogen, and appear effective in treating fibroids. Anti-progestins, which block the action of progesterone, are also sometimes used.
- Uterine artery embolization (UAE), also called uterine fibroid embolization is a newer minimally-invasive technique. The arteries supplying blood to the fibroids are identified, then embolized (blocked off). The embolization cuts off the blood supply to the fibroids, thus shrinking them. Health care providers continue to evaluate the long-term implications of this procedure on fertility and regrowth of the fibroid tissue.
- Anti-inflammatory painkillers. This type of drug is often effective for women who experience occasional pelvic pain or discomfort.
- Thermal ablation therapies
Laparoscopic, ultrasound-guided radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is an outpatient procedure for uterine fibroids. The procedure utilizes recent technological advancements in instrumentation and imaging, allowing surgeons to treat numerous fibroids of varying size and location in a minimally invasive fashion. Early and mid-term data from multi-center clinical trials have demonstrated safety and efficacy, with resolution or improvement of symptoms and significant volume reduction. Re-intervention rates for fibroid symptoms have been low. The procedure is well tolerated with a typically uneventful and rapid recovery requiring NSAIDs only for postoperative pain.
- UCLA Obstetrics and Gynecology
- Lee BB, Yu SP. Radiofrequency Ablation of Uterine Fibroids: a Review. Current Obstetrics and Gynecology Reports. 2016