Uterine fibriods FAQs
Get answers to the most frequently asked questions about uterine fibroids from Michelle Louie, M.D., a minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon at Mayo Clinic.
Hi, I'm Dr. Michelle Louie, a minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon at Mayo Clinic. And I'm here to answer some of the important questions you might have about uterine fibroids.
How do I pick the right treatment option?
There's no such thing as the right decision as there are many potential options that may be available to you. A fibroid specialist will be able to tell you what options are possible based on the size, number and location of the fibroids and your treatment goals. You may want to consider the severity of your symptoms, your feelings about surgery, your plans for pregnancy and how close you are to menopause.
Should I have my fibroids removed before or after pregnancy?
Fibroids in the uterine cavity can cause miscarriage or make it more difficult to get pregnant. So those are usually removed before pregnancy is attempted. If you're having bothersome symptoms now, getting them removed before pregnancy is possible. But depending on the size and location of the fibroids, your doctor may advise that you have a C-section in a future pregnancy because the scar on the uterus can open during labor. And that would be very dangerous for both you and the baby. If you're not having severe symptoms now, you could wait until after pregnancy to have the fibroids removed. But fibroids can grow during pregnancy and about 20 to 30% of cases, and that causes pain. Large fibroids, usually those bigger than 3 to 5 centimeters and cause issues with the placenta, growth of the baby, excessive bleeding during childbirth, preterm labor, and sometimes cause problems with delivery of the baby.
Can uterine fibroids come back after being removed?
Any treatment that preserves the uterus means that fibroids can occur in the future. So a hysterectomy, in which the uterus and cervix are removed, is the only treatment that can actually guarantee fibroids won't return. Fibroids can reoccur in about 60% of people who have them. But just because they come back doesn't mean they need to be treated.
Are there any natural medicines to shrink my fibroids?
There are some small studies looking into possible dietary and environmental factors that may promote fibroid growth. Foods like red meat, dairy, soy products, and exposure to BPA have been shown to have a possible link to fibroid development. But this data is weak and furthermore, avoiding these exposures has not been shown to treat, shrink or prevent fibroids. It does appear that fibroid growth is related to increasing weight. So exercise and eating a nutritious diet to maintain a healthy weight can help. The best evidence we have for vitamin supplements is for vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency, which is very common in people with dark skin, has been associated with fibroid growth in some studies. But we don't yet have enough information to recommend a certain dose of vitamin D supplements. Limited data does not support the use of herbal supplements like black cohosh or vaginal steaming. Additionally, because these supplements are not FDA regulated, they may be dangerous to your health. Acupuncture has shown promise for improving fibroid outcomes in small studies. And while there's not enough data to promote its use as primary treatment, it's very low-risk and would be acceptable as an adjunctive treatment.
Do fibroids disappear after menopause?
Since fibroids are hormonally responsive growths, most people do experience a decrease in fibroid size and fibroid-related issues as they get closer to menopause and beyond. In fact, the whole uterus decreases in size after menopause. However, studies do show that fibroids can continue to keep growing after menopause because there are other tissues in our body that produce estrogen besides the ovaries. This ongoing growth does not mean the fibroids are cancerous or that they even need to be treated. But if you are having bothersome symptoms, treatment is absolutely an option. How much the fibroids grow and how fast varies from person to person. But it's more likely with increasing weight or obesity and more likely with smaller rather than larger fibroids.
Are fibroids cancerous?
Fibroids have a very typical appearance on an ultrasound, and because they're so common, they're almost always accurately diagnosed. In some situations, your doctor may recommend a biopsy of the uterine lining or of the mass if there's a concern for cancer. If there's a concern for cancer, you may be referred to a specialist to discuss whether a hysterectomy is the best option rather than trying uterine sparing treatments. If you have a myomectomy, your surgeon may recommend using a special containment bag to remove the fibroids from your body since this can limit the spread of any cancerous or even noncancerous cells.
How can I be the best partner to my medical team?
Be upfront about your treatment goals and concerns. Don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion or referral to a fibroid specialist. If you feel like your doctor is advising a more invasive therapy, then seeing a fibroid specialist can help you ensure that you're being given all the options. Never hesitate to ask your medical team any questions or concerns you have. Being informed makes all the difference. Thanks for your time and we wish you well.
In a pelvic exam, your health care provider inserts two gloved fingers inside your vagina. Pressing down on your abdomen at the same time, your provider can examine your uterus, ovaries and other organs.
Uterine fibroids are frequently found incidentally during a routine pelvic exam. Your doctor may feel irregularities in the shape of your uterus, suggesting the presence of fibroids.
If you have symptoms of uterine fibroids, your doctor may order these tests:
Ultrasound. If confirmation is needed, your doctor may order an ultrasound. It uses sound waves to get a picture of your uterus to confirm the diagnosis and to map and measure fibroids.
A doctor or technician moves the ultrasound device (transducer) over your abdomen (transabdominal) or places it inside your vagina (transvaginal) to get images of your uterus.
- Lab tests. If you have abnormal menstrual bleeding, your doctor may order other tests to investigate potential causes. These might include a complete blood count (CBC) to determine if you have anemia because of chronic blood loss and other blood tests to rule out bleeding disorders or thyroid problems.
Other imaging tests
During hysterosonography (his-tur-o-suh-NOG-ruh-fee), a care provider uses a thin, flexible tube (catheter) to inject salt water (saline) into the hollow part of the uterus. An ultrasound probe gets images of the inside of the uterus to check for anything unusual.
A doctor or technician places a slender catheter inside your cervix. It releases a liquid contrast material that flows into your uterus. The dye traces the shape of your uterine cavity and fallopian tubes and makes them visible on X-ray images.
During hysteroscopy, a thin, lighted instrument (hysteroscope) provides a view of the inside of the uterus.
If traditional ultrasound doesn't provide enough information, your doctor may order other imaging studies, such as:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This imaging test can show in more detail the size and location of fibroids, identify different types of tumors, and help determine appropriate treatment options. An MRI is most often used in women with a larger uterus or in women approaching menopause (perimenopause).
- Hysterosonography. Hysterosonography (his-tur-o-suh-NOG-ruh-fee), also called a saline infusion sonogram, uses sterile salt water (saline) to expand the uterine cavity, making it easier to get images of submucosal fibroids and the lining of the uterus in women attempting pregnancy or who have heavy menstrual bleeding.
- Hysterosalpingography. Hysterosalpingography (his-tur-o-sal-ping-GOG-ruh-fee) uses a dye to highlight the uterine cavity and fallopian tubes on X-ray images. Your doctor may recommend it if infertility is a concern. This test can help your doctor determine if your fallopian tubes are open or are blocked and can show some submucosal fibroids.
- Hysteroscopy. For this exam, your doctor inserts a small, lighted telescope called a hysteroscope through your cervix into your uterus. Your doctor then injects saline into your uterus, expanding the uterine cavity and allowing your doctor to examine the walls of your uterus and the openings of your fallopian tubes.
There's no single best approach to uterine fibroid treatment — many treatment options exist. If you have symptoms, talk with your doctor about options for symptom relief.
Many women with uterine fibroids experience no signs or symptoms, or only mildly annoying signs and symptoms that they can live with. If that's the case for you, watchful waiting could be the best option.
Fibroids aren't cancerous. They rarely interfere with pregnancy. They usually grow slowly — or not at all — and tend to shrink after menopause, when levels of reproductive hormones drop.
Medications for uterine fibroids target hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle, treating symptoms such as heavy menstrual bleeding and pelvic pressure. They don't eliminate fibroids, but may shrink them. Medications include:
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists. Medications called GnRH agonists treat fibroids by blocking the production of estrogen and progesterone, putting you into a temporary menopause-like state. As a result, menstruation stops, fibroids shrink and anemia often improves.
GnRH agonists include leuprolide (Lupron Depot, Eligard, others), goserelin (Zoladex) and triptorelin (Trelstar, Triptodur Kit).
Many women have significant hot flashes while using GnRH agonists. GnRH agonists typically are used for no more than three to six months because symptoms return when the medication is stopped and long-term use can cause loss of bone.
Your doctor may prescribe a GnRH agonist to shrink the size of your fibroids before a planned surgery or to help transition you to menopause.
- Progestin-releasing intrauterine device (IUD). A progestin-releasing IUD can relieve heavy bleeding caused by fibroids. A progestin-releasing IUD provides symptom relief only and doesn't shrink fibroids or make them disappear. It also prevents pregnancy.
- Tranexamic acid (Lysteda, Cyklokapron). This nonhormonal medication is taken to ease heavy menstrual periods. It's taken only on heavy bleeding days.
Other medications. Your doctor might recommend other medications. For example, oral contraceptives can help control menstrual bleeding, but they don't reduce fibroid size.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are not hormonal medications, may be effective in relieving pain related to fibroids, but they don't reduce bleeding caused by fibroids. Your doctor may also suggest that you take vitamins and iron if you have heavy menstrual bleeding and anemia.
Focused ultrasound surgery
During focused ultrasound surgery, high-frequency, high-energy sound waves are used to target and destroy uterine fibroids. The procedure is performed while you're inside an MRI scanner. The equipment allows your doctor to visualize your uterus, locate any fibroids and destroy the fibroid tissue without making any incisions.
MRI-guided focused ultrasound surgery (FUS) is:
- A noninvasive treatment option for uterine fibroids that preserves your uterus, requires no incision and is done on an outpatient basis.
- Performed while you're inside an MRI scanner equipped with a high-energy ultrasound transducer for treatment. The images give your doctor the precise location of the uterine fibroids. When the location of the fibroid is targeted, the ultrasound transducer focuses sound waves (sonications) into the fibroid to heat and destroy small areas of fibroid tissue.
- Newer technology, so researchers are learning more about the long-term safety and effectiveness. But so far data collected show that FUS for uterine fibroids is safe and effective.
Minimally invasive procedures
Uterine artery embolization
Small particles (embolic agents) are injected into the uterine artery through a small catheter. The embolic agents then flow to the fibroids and lodge in the arteries that feed them. This cuts off blood flow to starve the tumors.
Laparoscopic radiofrequency ablation
During laparoscopic radiofrequency ablation, your doctor sees inside your abdomen using two special instruments. One is a laparoscopic camera positioned above the uterus, and the other is a laparoscopic ultrasound wand that sits directly on the uterus. Using both instruments provides your doctor with two views of a uterine fibroid, allowing for more-thorough treatment than would be possible with just one view. After locating a uterine fibroid, your doctor uses another thin device to send several small needles into the fibroid. The small needles heat up, destroying fibroid tissue.
Certain procedures can destroy uterine fibroids without actually removing them through surgery. They include:
Uterine artery embolization. Small particles (embolic agents) are injected into the arteries supplying the uterus, cutting off blood flow to fibroids, causing them to shrink and die.
This technique can be effective in shrinking fibroids and relieving the symptoms they cause. Complications may occur if the blood supply to your ovaries or other organs is compromised. However, research shows that complications are similar to surgical fibroid treatments and the risk of transfusion is substantially reduced.
Radiofrequency ablation. In this procedure, radiofrequency energy destroys uterine fibroids and shrinks the blood vessels that feed them. This can be done during a laparoscopic or transcervical procedure. A similar procedure called cryomyolysis freezes the fibroids.
With laparoscopic radiofrequency ablation (Acessa), also called Lap-RFA, your doctor makes two small incisions in the abdomen to insert a slim viewing instrument (laparoscope) with a camera at the tip. Using the laparoscopic camera and a laparoscopic ultrasound tool, your doctor locates fibroids to be treated.
After locating a fibroid, your doctor uses a specialized device to deploy several small needles into the fibroid. The needles heat up the fibroid tissue, destroying it. The destroyed fibroid immediately changes consistency, for instance from being hard like a golf ball to being soft like a marshmallow. During the next three to 12 months, the fibroid continues to shrink, improving symptoms.
Because there's no cutting of uterine tissue, doctors consider Lap-RFA a less invasive alternative to hysterectomy and myomectomy. Most women who have the procedure get back to regular activities after 5 to 7 days of recovery.
The transcervical — or through the cervix — approach to radiofrequency ablation (Sonata) also uses ultrasound guidance to locate fibroids.
Laparoscopic or robotic myomectomy. In a myomectomy, your surgeon removes the fibroids, leaving the uterus in place.
If the fibroids are few in number, you and your doctor may opt for a laparoscopic or robotic procedure, which uses slender instruments inserted through small incisions in your abdomen to remove the fibroids from your uterus.
Larger fibroids can be removed through smaller incisions by breaking them into pieces (morcellation), which can be done inside a surgical bag, or by extending one incision to remove the fibroids.
Your doctor views your abdominal area on a monitor using a small camera attached to one of the instruments. Robotic myomectomy gives your surgeon a magnified, 3D view of your uterus, offering more precision, flexibility and dexterity than is possible using some other techniques.
- Hysteroscopic myomectomy. This procedure may be an option if the fibroids are contained inside the uterus (submucosal). Your surgeon accesses and removes fibroids using instruments inserted through your vagina and cervix into your uterus.
Endometrial ablation. This treatment, performed with a specialized instrument inserted into your uterus, uses heat, microwave energy, hot water or electric current to destroy the lining of your uterus, either ending menstruation or reducing your menstrual flow.
Typically, endometrial ablation is effective in stopping abnormal bleeding. Submucosal fibroids can be removed at the time of hysteroscopy for endometrial ablation, but this doesn't affect fibroids outside the interior lining of the uterus.
Women aren't likely to get pregnant following endometrial ablation, but birth control is needed to prevent a pregnancy from developing in a fallopian tube (ectopic pregnancy).
With any procedure that doesn't remove the uterus, there's a risk that new fibroids could grow and cause symptoms.
Traditional surgical procedures
Options for traditional surgical procedures include:
Abdominal myomectomy. If you have multiple fibroids, very large fibroids or very deep fibroids, your doctor may use an open abdominal surgical procedure to remove the fibroids.
Many women who are told that hysterectomy is their only option can have an abdominal myomectomy instead. However, scarring after surgery can affect future fertility.
Hysterectomy. This surgery removes the uterus. It remains the only proven permanent solution for uterine fibroids.
Hysterectomy ends your ability to bear children. If you also elect to have your ovaries removed, the surgery brings on menopause and the question of whether you'll take hormone replacement therapy. Most women with uterine fibroids may be able to choose to keep their ovaries.
Morcellation during fibroid removal
Morcellation — a process of breaking fibroids into smaller pieces — may increase the risk of spreading cancer if a previously undiagnosed cancerous mass undergoes morcellation during myomectomy. There are several ways to reduce that risk, such as evaluating risk factors before surgery, morcellating the fibroid in a bag or expanding an incision to avoid morcellation.
All myomectomies carry the risk of cutting into an undiagnosed cancer, but younger, premenopausal women generally have a lower risk of undiagnosed cancer than do older women.
Also, complications during open surgery are more common than the chance of spreading an undiagnosed cancer in a fibroid during a minimally invasive procedure. If your doctor is planning to use morcellation, discuss your individual risks before treatment.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises against the use of a device to morcellate the tissue (power morcellator) for most women having fibroids removed through myomectomy or hysterectomy. In particular, the FDA recommends that women who are approaching menopause or who have reached menopause avoid power morcellation. Older women in or entering menopause may have a higher cancer risk, and women who are no longer concerned about preserving their fertility have additional treatment options for fibroids.
If you're trying to get pregnant or might want to have children
Hysterectomy and endometrial ablation won't allow you to have a future pregnancy. Also, uterine artery embolization and radiofrequency ablation may not be the best options if you're trying to optimize future fertility.
Have a full discussion of the risks and benefits of these procedures with your doctor if you want to preserve the ability to become pregnant. Before deciding on a treatment plan for fibroids, a complete fertility evaluation is recommended if you're actively trying to get pregnant.
If fibroid treatment is needed — and you want to preserve your fertility — myomectomy is generally the treatment of choice. However, all treatments have risks and benefits. Discuss these with your doctor.
Risk of developing new fibroids
For all procedures except hysterectomy, seedlings — tiny tumors that your doctor doesn't detect during surgery — could eventually grow and cause symptoms that warrant treatment. This is often termed the recurrence rate. New fibroids, which may or may not require treatment, also can develop.
Also, some procedures — such as laparoscopic or robotic myomectomy, radiofrequency ablation, or MRI-guided focused ultrasound surgery (FUS) — may only treat some of the fibroids present at the time of treatment.
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Preparing for your appointment
Your first appointment will likely be with either your primary care provider or a gynecologist. Because appointments can be brief, it's a good idea to prepare for your appointment.
What you can do
- Make a list of any symptoms you're experiencing. Include all of your symptoms, even if you don't think they're related.
- List any medications, herbs and vitamin supplements you take. Include doses and how often you take them.
- Have a family member or close friend accompany you, if possible. You may be given a lot of information during your visit, and it can be difficult to remember everything.
- Take a notebook or electronic device with you. Use it to note important information during your visit.
- Prepare a list of questions to ask. List your most important questions first, to be sure that you cover those points.
For uterine fibroids, some basic questions to ask include:
- How many fibroids do I have? How big are they?
- Are the fibroids located on the inside or outside of my uterus?
- What kinds of tests might I need?
- What medications are available to treat uterine fibroids or my symptoms?
- What side effects can I expect from medication use?
- Under what circumstances do you recommend surgery?
- Will I need a medication before or after surgery?
- Will my uterine fibroids affect my ability to become pregnant?
- Can treatment of uterine fibroids improve my fertility?
Make sure that you understand everything your doctor tells you. Don't hesitate to have your doctor repeat information or to ask follow-up questions.
What to expect from your doctor
Some questions your doctor might ask include:
- How often do you have these symptoms?
- How long have you been experiencing symptoms?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- Do your symptoms seem to be related to your menstrual cycle?
- Does anything improve your symptoms?
- Does anything make your symptoms worse?
- Do you have a family history of uterine fibroids?
Sept. 21, 2022