Got Fibroids? Avoid the Big H!

If you are a woman with fibroid tumors, pay attention!  There may be an option your GYN isn’t telling you about — and it may save you from surgery….

…. this according to Dr. Frank Vogel, the interventional radiologist I interviewed yesterday for my radio show.

Fibroids are benign tumors of the uterus and many women get them.  According to Dr. Vogel, up to 80 percent of black, Hispanic and Asian women get them.  A quick check online tells me up to 50 percent of caucasian women get them.  They can be very tiny, almost invisible, or they can grow as large as grapefruits or larger.  Their development and growth is dependent on estrogen, so once a woman is past menopause, she will no longer be affected.  They can be asymptomatic (no symptoms at all) or they can cause severe pain or heavy bleeding.  For those women most severely affected, the only way to stop the symptoms is to remove or destroy the tumors.

Until recently, the only way to make sure fibroid tumors were completely removed or destroyed was to undergo hysterectomy — the removal of some or all of a woman’s female organs:  the uterus, ovaries, tubes, etc.  There are some other treatments that involve lasers or even drugs, but most often they are only short term, or symptom fixers.

So why did I have this conversation with an interventional radiologist?  Because he performs UFEs — Uterine Fibroid Embolizations.  It’s a procedure that involves a few hours (or at most overnight) in the hospital, very minimal pain, and a return to normal activities in a week or 10 days.  All the woman’s organs stay intact, but her fibroid tumors are destroyed.  UFEs have been safely performed for 10 years.

Contrast that with a hysterectomy which requires major surgery, meaning several days in the hospital, a great deal of pain, and up to six weeks or six months before she is back on her feet and 100 percent!  I know this first hand.  I had a total hysterectomy in 1993, and believe me — it was NOT a cake walk.

So why do I blog about this at all?  What does it have to do with patient advocacy? 

If you follow this blog, you know that one of my biggest concerns, and one of the things I hear from patients all the time, is that they didn’t know about a treatment option that might have been better than the way they were treated. 

Why?  Because, too often, doctors only recommend treatments they will control or profit from.  So, if the treatment isn’t something they can make money from?  Hmmm… 

Because it will be a gynecologist who will diagnose fibroid tumors, and because a gynecologist will be the surgeon for his/her patient, and because it is NOT a gynecologist but an interventional radiologist, who performs the UFE — too many women never even hear about this alternative!  Their doctors just fail to mention it.  Hmmm…… 

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am NOT recommending women with fibroid tumors use UFE instead of a hysterectomy.  There are pros and cons for all treatments and these are no different.  This is not a one-size-fits-all answer. We are all different, and our bodies react differently, and each woman must make a decision based on her own situation. In fact, looking back on my own hysterectomy experience, I wouldn’t change it.  For almost 14 years, I haven’t had to deal with that monthly cycle and it has been heaven! 

This post is intended solely to point out that it is up to us as sharp patients to always check into ALL our options.  Second opinions are very important, too!  The more professionals we talk to, the more options we’ll know about.  Research is important, too!  The more we delve into possibilities, especially online, the more we can converse intelligently with our doctors about all the treatment options that might apply to us.

So Ladies!  A word to the wise women out there who are faced with decision-making about their fibroid tumors.  Ask your gyn if a UFE makes sense for you.  And find an interventional radiologist in your area to discuss possibilities with.  You’ve got nothing to lose — except those fibroids!

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