Harvard Women's Health Watch

In Brief: Procedure shrinks fibroids in postmenopausal women, too

In Brief

Procedure shrinks fibroids in postmenopausal women, too

Uterine fibroids are common noncancerous growths that form within the walls or lining of the uterus or on its outer surface. They're not life-threatening, but they can cause considerable suffering. Large ones in particular can impinge on pelvic organs, resulting in pain, constipation, and frequent urination.

Because their growth is related to estrogen and possibly progesterone, uterine fibroids often regress after menopause. But they continue to cause trouble for many women, some of whom undergo surgery for fibroid removal (myomectomy) or hysterectomy to remove the entire uterus. A study shows that uterine fibroid embolization (UFE), a minimally invasive technique, reduces symptoms in postmenopausal women. Until now, UFE has been an accepted first-line therapy only in premenopausal women.

During the procedure, a catheter is threaded by way of the groin into the uterine artery. Sand-sized synthetic particles are released into the artery and concentrate near the fibroid, where they block blood flow to the growth, causing it to shrink and die. Researchers at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago followed 24 postmenopausal women for up to two years after UFE. They found that symptoms improved in 22 (92%) of the women. On average, uterine volume was reduced by 40% and the largest fibroids shrank by 43%. Based on these results, the authors maintain that UFE should be routinely offered as one of several fibroid treatment options for postmenopausal women. Although the study is small, it's the first to investigate UFE specifically in this age group. The findings were presented in March 2006 at the 31st annual scientific meeting of the Society of Interventional Radiology.

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