It's the most common reason for hysterectomies in the United States: As many as 30 percent of women suffer from uterine fibroids, benign, painful tumors in the uterus. Now there's a treatment that kills the tumors but not the option of having children.
Ericka Schwappach and her husband want to start a family.
"Absolutely, I absolutely look forward to someone calling me mom," Schwappach told Ivanhoe.
Schwappach has uterine fibroids, non-cancerous tumors that grow on the wall of the uterus. Not only does it reduce her odds of getting pregnant, it causes a lot of discomfort.
"Severe menstrual cycles with heavy bleeding and lots of pain," she said.
Even after Schwappach's fibroids were surgically removed, they came back. She thought her only option was a hysterectomy until she heard about uterine fibroid embolization, or UFE. Interventional radiologists thread a small catheter into the arteries that supply blood to the uterus, and the fibroids.
"We actually go in, and we put in permanent, very tiny spheres which block the branches of the artery that go to the fibroids," Karen Garby, M.D., an interventional radiologist at Banner Health in Phoenix, Ariz., told Ivanhoe.
That blocks the blood supply.
"And when their blood supply, like any tumor, is cut off, they shrink and they die, and they become scar and no longer cause the symptoms," Dr. Garby explained.
Studies show UFE is successful in reducing bleeding, eliminating pain and shrinking fibroids in 90 percent of cases.
"Much better," Schwappach said. "Remarkably, noticeably better."
Schwappach is hopeful motherhood is in her future, but also relieved to no longer live in pain.
"My husband would like probably four," she said. "I say let's start with one and see where we go."
Finding an alternative to hysterectomy changed one woman's options, and her life. Menopause occurs in 15 percent of women who have the procedure after age 45. Women who get pregnant after the procedure will likely have a Cesarean section during delivery rather than risk rupturing the wall of the uterus.
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