Studies: Minimally Invasive Uterine Fibroid Embolization Procedure is “Vastly Underutilized”

Uterine fibroids are the most common benign tumors in women of childbearing age. Although women with fibroids often experience no symptoms, the Journal of Women’s Health has reported that 40 percent of women develop uterine fibroids by age 35, and more than half of all women will experience uterine fibroids at some time in their lives.

Notably, African American women are up to three times more likely to have fibroids than Caucasian women, and they tend to show up earlier than in women of other ethnicities. Research published in the International Journal of Women’s Health found that the risk of getting uterine fibroids by age 35 was 60 percent among African-American women, increasing to more than 80 percent by age 50.

The National Institutes of Health “condition information” states that uterine fibroids can have a major impact on a patient’s lifestyle and quality of life, with symptoms that may include: painful periods; heavy bleeding that may lead to anemia; pelvic pressure; and reproductive issues such as infertility, multiple miscarriages and early onset of labor during pregnancy.

Although total abdominal hysterectomy (TAH) remains the most common treatment for symptomatic fibroids, uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) – also referred to as uterine artery embolization (UAE) – is a minimally invasive, non-surgical option for patients with fibroids that are causing significant problems. In numerous clinical studies, UFE has been shown safe and effective, as well as cost-effective, with quick recovery times and high patient satisfaction.1-4

Despite this information and the procedure’s track record dating back to 1995, research presented at the March 2017 Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR) meeting in Washington, D.C., found that UFE is greatly underused as an alternative to TAH.

The SIR annual meeting research found that UFE is “vastly underutilized, compared to hysterectomies.” From 2012 to 2013, study authors reported 167,650 hysterectomies performed compared to only 2,470 UFEs performed nationwide. The SIR lists several reasons for the underuse of UFEs, including overall lack of awareness and because the procedure requires highly trained interventional radiologists and specialized equipment.

A follow-up SIR survey released in August 2017 found that more than 60 percent of women are unaware of UFE, and just one in five women thinks the only treatment available for uterine fibroids is TAH.

Results from the SIR follow-up survey of 1,176 U.S. women revealed:

  • A majority of women diagnosed with uterine fibroids said having their doctor discuss all options with them was the most important factor in selecting a treatment
  • 46 percent of women diagnosed with uterine fibroids who have heard of UFE did not learn about the treatment from their OB-GYN

The uterus has an important hormonal, structural and sexual function role; therefore, preservation of the uterus, when practical and indicated based on the patient’s medical history and symptoms, is a topic for serious discussion.

UFE works by using image-guided injection of micro particles that cut off the blood supply to fibroids, causing them to shrink and die. UFE is performed on an outpatient basis, takes less than an hour, and the patient can return home in less than 24 hours.

RMG interventional radiologists are highly trained, with access to the specialized equipment and technology required to perform UFE. Because every patient’s situation is different, talking with your healthcare provider is critical. Visit us at www.rmgscc.com/referring-physicians or call 831-476-7711 for more information.

  1. Cain-Nielsen AH, Moriarty JP, Stewart EA, Borah BJ. Cost-effectiveness of uterine-preserving procedures for the treatment of uterine fibroid symptoms in the USA. Journal of Comparative Effectiveness Research. May 30 2014:1-12.
  2. Gupta JK, Sinha A, Lumsden MA, Hickey M. Uterine artery embolization for symptomatic uterine fibroids. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. 2012;5:CD005073.
  3. Scheurig-Muenkler C, Koesters C, Powerski MJ, Grieser C, Froeling V, Kroencke TJ. Clinical long-term outcome after uterine artery embolization: sustained symptom control and improvement of quality of life. Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology Jun 2013;24(6):765-771.
  4. Toor SS, Jaberi A, Macdonald DB, McInnes MD, Schweitzer ME, Rasuli P. Complication rates and effectiveness of uterine artery embolization in the treatment of symptomatic leiomyomas: a systematic review and meta-analysis. American Journal of Roentgenology. Nov 2012;199(5):1153-1163.
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