Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a nonsurgical procedure that provides long-term symptom relief for women with uterine fibroids. As a first-line therapy for fibroids, it controls fibroid symptoms over time by blocking the blood supply to the fibroids, causing them to shrink and symptoms to diminish. While strong evidence exists that supports the safety and effectiveness of UFE, there has been some discussion on our social media pages regarding the likelihood of fibroids “growing back.”
Dr. James A. Gohar, lead OB/GYN and fibroid expert at VIVA EVE addresses the possibility of fibroids growing back and what it really means if your fibroids have “grown back”:
Is there a chance for a fibroid to grow back that has gone through the UFE process?
Dr. James Gohar: “It’s very unlikely. Most instances where fibroids grow back, a suboptimal treatment is the cause. If the blood supply is partially treated, there’s a reasonable probability that the body is going to regenerate that blood supply, because the body doesn’t know any better, and has a remarkable ability to compensate whenever there is a problem.”
How does a patient know whether they have received a full treatment or a suboptimal treatment?
Dr. James Gohar: “At our fibroid treatment center, we do a three-month followup during which the patient gets an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan. We then review the size and activity level of the fibroids to determine how effective the UFE procedure has been. Did we fully treat the area or is it only partially treated?
We can tell by looking at something called contrast enhancement. During the MRI, a chemical dye known as contrast is inserted through the IV into the bloodstream. If the fibroids are enhanced (active), they light up like Christmas trees. If the fibroids are not active, there is low or no enhancement.
Based on each fibroid’s enhancement, we can determine how effective the procedure was at eliminating the blood supply. Fibroids that show 0% enhancement or very low levels of enhancement, mean that we’ve achieved our goal. If fibroids aren’t active, they can’t cause symptoms.”
Is it possible for new fibroids to grow post-UFE?
Dr. James Gohar: “Yes there is a chance, just as there is a chance with a myomectomy. Short of removing your uterus, there’s always the possibility that new fibroids can grow. However, we have performed hundreds of UFEs and have had very few repeat cases. We make no claims about one tool working 100% for all people, 100% of the time. However, the goal is significant improvement in our patients’ quality of life. That is the goal, that is the objective, and it’s a goal that we feel really confident about and are very successful in.“
When seeking guidance on whether UFE is the right option for a patient, what should they look for in a doctor?
Dr. James Gohar: “A patient should look for a doctor who has a compassionate bedside manner, who has their back and gives them impartial information to use to make decisions, and offers them support, follow-up, and close attention.
When you go to a hospital and you have the UFE, you’d be lucky if you even see the doctor or have any sort of MRI or imaging after the procedure. They’re just not set up for that. So, you have the treatment, you aren’t followed up with, you have no support and thus, you get lost in the shuffle.
Our approach to this is a little different. We work very closely with our OB/GYNs. We see our patients before and after the procedure and follow up to ensure they’ve had a full treatment so we can make the determination that their problem is solved. Once we know the treatment is complete and successful, we then find the recurrence rate to be very, very small.”
Bottom line? The next time you read a comment on social media that says “✋My fibroids grew back,” stop! One person’s experience may not be the measure of UFE’s ability to provide long-term fibroid symptom relief. A fibroid specialist can share the pros and cons of the best options modern medicine can offer and help you create an individualized treatment plan that’s right for you.