UFE stands for uterine fibroid embolization, which sounds scary, but it’s actually considerably less invasive than the procedure which it can replace.
A UFE can sometimes be performed in place of a hysterectomy, an operation in which all or part of the uterus is removed. A new study led by Dr. Prasoon Mohan, MD, has found that in comparison to hysterectomies, UFE is “under-used” when it comes to treating uterine fibroids.
Uterine fibroids are noncancerous tumors that can grow on different areas in and outside of the uterus. Intramural fibroids are what grow inside the uterine wall, submucosal fibroids also grow inside the uterus, and subserosal fibroids appear on the outside of the uterus. Uterine fibroids are not always dangerous, and sometimes do not present any symptoms that make them necessary for removal. If symptoms are present, however, they will likely come in the form of long and heavy periods, pelvic pain, trouble peeing, constipation, and pain in the back and legs. Fibroids are typically removed because of the pain and discomfort that they can bring.
Fibroids typically develop in the uterus between ages 30 and 40, though they are more common in black women than white women and often appear at younger ages for black women. Doctors are unsure why this is. Most fibroids are believed to be triggered by hormonal and genetic changes.
UFE is a procedure in which the arteries connected to the fibroids are injected with small particles. These particles block the arteries, which prevent them from providing nutrients to the fibroids. Without access to nutrients from the arteries, the fibroids will shrink and die.
In his study, Dr. Mohan found that in one year, “hysterectomies were performed 65 times more often than embolization at U.S. hospitals.” Part of the reason for this gap may be due to accessibility. Most UFE procedures are performed in large medical centers, rather than small hospitals in less populated areas. This may be because most smaller hospitals are not equipped with either the training or the materials to perform this type of procedure. UFE is also not always the ideal fix for all types of fibroids. The removal process of uterine fibroids will vary based on the size and placement of the fibroids, the amount of fibroids present, the type of fibroid, and the severity of symptoms.
A UFE is not for everyone who develops uterine fibroids, but it is something to talk to your doctor about if you are thinking of getting your fibroids removed. The procedure runs about $10,000 less than a hysterectomy, and, as mentioned above, is much less invasive.