Kill tumors while preserving fertility

By Karen Abernathy – bio | email

It's the most common reason for hysterectomies in the U.S. 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.

That's good news for Ericka Schwappach and her husband who want to start a family.

"Absolutely. I absolutely look forward to someone calling me mom."

Ericka 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. She says she suffers with "severe menstrual cycles with heavy bleeding and lots of pain."

Even after her 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.

Karen Garby, MD is an Interventional Radiologist at Banner Health in Phoenix, Arizona.

"We actually go in and we put in permanent, very tiny spheres which block the branches of the artery that go to the fibroids," Dr. Garby said.

That cuts off the blood supply.

"And when their blood supply, like any tumor, is cut off, they shrink and they die and they become scar and they no longer cause the symptoms."

Studies show UFE is successful in reducing bleeding, eliminating pain and shrinking fibroids in 90 percent of cases. Dr. Garby said menopause occurs in 15 percent of women over 45 who have the procedure. And she said younger women who get pregnant after the procedure, will likely need a cesarean section to avoid the risk of rupturing the wall of the uterus.

Ericka had the procedure and likes the results so far.

"Much better. Remarkably, noticeably better."

Ericka is hopeful motherhood is in her future, but also relieved to no longer live in pain. They hope to start a family soon.

"My husband would like probably four. I say let's start with one and see where we go."

Ericka is thankful she found an alternative to hysterectomy, that changed her options, and her life.

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