Treatments and drugsBy Mayo Clinic staff
There's no single best approach to uterine fibroid treatment. Many treatment options exist.
Many women with uterine fibroids experience no signs or symptoms. If that's the case for you, watchful waiting (expectant management) could be the best option. Fibroids aren't cancerous. They rarely interfere with pregnancy. They usually grow slowly — or not at all — and tend to shrink after menopause when levels of reproductive hormones drop.
Medications for uterine fibroids target hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle, treating symptoms such as heavy menstrual bleeding and pelvic pressure. They don't eliminate fibroids, but may shrink them. Medications include:
- Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists. Medications called GnRH agonists (Lupron, Synarel, others) treat fibroids by causing your natural estrogen and progesterone levels to decrease, putting you into a temporary postmenopausal state. As a result, menstruation stops, fibroids shrink and anemia often improves. Your doctor may prescribe a GnRH agonist to shrink the size of your fibroids before a planned surgery. Many women have significant hot flashes while using GnRH agonists.
- Progestin-releasing intrauterine device (IUD). A progestin-releasing IUD can relieve heavy bleeding and pain caused by fibroids. A progestin-releasing IUD provides symptom relief only and doesn't shrink fibroids or make them disappear.
- Androgens. Danazol, a synthetic drug similar to testosterone, may effectively stop menstruation, correct anemia and even shrink fibroid tumors and reduce uterine size. However, this drug is rarely used to treat fibroids. Unpleasant side effects, such as weight gain, dysphoria (feeling depressed, anxious or uneasy), acne, headaches, unwanted hair growth and a deeper voice, make many women reluctant to take this drug.
- Other medications. Oral contraceptives or progestins can help control menstrual bleeding, but they don't reduce fibroid size. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are not hormonal medications, may be effective in relieving pain related to fibroids, but they don't reduce bleeding caused by fibroids.
This operation — the removal of the uterus — remains the only proven permanent solution for uterine fibroids. But hysterectomy is major surgery. It ends your ability to bear children, and if you also elect to have your ovaries removed, it brings on menopause and the question of whether you'll take hormone replacement therapy. Most women with uterine fibroids can choose to keep their ovaries.
In this surgical procedure, your surgeon removes the fibroids, leaving the uterus in place. With myomectomy, there's a risk of fibroid recurrence.
Myomectomy options include:
- Abdominal myomectomy. If you have multiple fibroids, very large fibroids or very deep fibroids, your doctor may use an open abdominal surgical procedure to remove the fibroids.
- Laparoscopic or robotic myomectomy. If the fibroids are small and few in number, you and your doctor may opt for a laparoscopic procedure, which uses slender instruments inserted through small incisions in your abdomen to remove the fibroids from your uterus. Your doctor views your abdominal area on a remote monitor via a small camera attached to one of the instruments. Use of a surgical robot now allows for removal of more fibroids or larger fibroids.
- Hysteroscopic myomectomy. This procedure may be an option if the fibroids are contained inside the uterus (submucosal). A long, slender instrument (hysteroscope) is passed through your vagina and cervix and into your uterus. Your doctor can see and remove the fibroids through the scope. This procedure is best performed by a doctor experienced in this technique.
Focused ultrasound surgery
MRI-guided focused ultrasound surgery (FUS) is a noninvasive treatment option for uterine fibroids that preserves your uterus.
This procedure is performed while you're inside of a specially crafted MRI scanner that allows doctors to visualize your anatomy, and then locate and destroy (ablate) fibroids inside your uterus without making an incision. Focused high-frequency, high-energy sound waves are used to target and destroy the fibroids. One or two treatment sessions are done in an on- and off-again fashion, sometimes spanning several hours.
Because it's a newer technology, researchers are learning more about the long-term safety and effectiveness of FUS. Research continues, but so far data collected show that FUS for uterine fibroids is safe and very effective.
Other minimally invasive procedures for fibroids
Certain procedures can destroy uterine fibroids without actually removing them through surgery. They include:
- Myolysis. In this laparoscopic procedure, an electric current or laser destroys the fibroids and shrinks the blood vessels that feed them. A similar procedure called cryomyolysis freezes the fibroids. The safety, effectiveness and associated risk of fibroid recurrence of myolysis and cryomyolysis have yet to be determined.
- Endometrial ablation. This treatment, performed with a specialized instrument inserted into your uterus, uses heat, microwave energy, hot water or electric current to destroy the lining of your uterus, either ending menstruation or reducing your menstrual flow. Endometrial ablation is effective in stopping abnormal bleeding, but doesn't affect fibroids outside the interior lining of the uterus.
- Uterine artery embolization. Small particles (embolic agents) injected into the arteries supplying the uterus cut off blood flow to fibroids, causing them to shrink. This technique, performed by an interventional radiologist, is proving effective in shrinking fibroids and relieving the symptoms they can cause. Advantages over surgery include no incision and a shorter recovery time. Complications may occur if the blood supply to your ovaries or other organs is compromised.
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