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New technique aids in treatment of fibroid tumors

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

An innovative, new medical procedure, now available in Atlanta, has increased options for women with regard to the treatment of tumors in the uterus.

Fibroid exablation is a technique that combines magnetic resonance imaging with focused ultrasound technology, to treat abnormal growths within the muscles of the uterus of pre-menopausal women.

Dr. Assia Stepanian, gynecologic surgeon with the Center for Women's Care & Reproductive Surgery in Atlanta and SightLine Health Inc., said exablation, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2004, has been proven to be a safe and effective way to reduce fibroid tumors.

The doctor cited data from a recently completed 24-month study, which indicates positive results for women who opt for the new technique.

"The data indicates that if more than 20 percent of uterine fibroids in a given patient are adequately treated, this results in reliable improvement in quality of life and symptoms associated with fibroids; reduction in [the number of] future procedures for uterine fibroids; shrinkage of fibroids and persistent improvement in blood count," Stepanian explained.

According to a press release issued last month by Texas-based SightLine Health, Inc., exablation involves no incisions, as doctors employ magnetic images to view the tumors, and direct high-intensity sound waves at the tumors to shrink and eradicate them.

A physician obtains a three-dimensional view of the targeted tissue, allowing for precise focusing and delivery of ultrasound energy to heat the fibroid and kill it, the press release stated.

SightLine also noted statistics from the National Institutes of Health, indicating that at least 25 percent of women in the U.S. between the ages of 25 and 50 suffer from uterine fibroids.

Dr. Stepanian said although there is "no definite consensus" in the medical community regarding how fibroids develop, doctors have "multiple theories" for why they form.

Some patients, she noted, are genetically predisposed to the tumors, as 40 percent of fibroids have "chromosomal abnormalities." Other fibroids, Stepanian said, are more prevalent among certain demographics.

Black women, she said, are 2-10 times more at risk to develop uterine fibroids than white women. In addition, patients who are one generation removed from a woman with a history of fibroids, are more than four times as likely to develop the tumors themselves.

Stepanian said patients, before undergoing exablation, are subject to screening of the abdomen, to ensure they are good candidates for the procedure. The screening, she explained, is done on an "individualized" basis, by a team of radiologists and surgeons.

Prior to the advent of exablation, other techniques for treatment of fibroids, according to SightLine release, have included the following: abdominal hysterectomy, or a removal of the uterus; laparoscopic supracervical hysterectomy, removal of the uterus that spares the cervix; uterine artery embolization, which cuts off blood supply to the fibroid and requires patients to spend the night in the hospital.

Stepanian said the three-hour exablation process, by contrast, is the only non-invasive procedure available to treat fibroids.

"The patient is awake [during exablation], and doesn't require any general anesthesia, hospitalization or any narcotic medications after surgery," she explained. "The patient walks, by herself, from the procedure table to the recovery room."

Stepanian said that, generally, patients do not require any absence from work following the procedure. Furthermore, she added that "pregnancies that have occurred in patients that have had exablation done, have had no complications," according to current data available.

Additional research on exablation, said the doctor, is on the horizon. A study involving 650 patients at 15 different locations has been submitted to the FDA, to examine issues related to fertility and pregnancy with regard to the technique.

For more information on fibroid exablation, visit www.sightlinehealth.com.