New, less-invasive procedure for fibroids is a gamechanger

Since age 15, Colleen has experienced unusual menstrual cycles and was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, also known as PCOS. One treatment option recommended for PCOS symptoms is birth control pills, which can help control unusual bleeding and blood clots. Unfortunately, as time progressed, Colleen’s symptoms worsened even though she was routinely taking her birth control pills.

Colleen was eventually diagnosed with fibroids, which are noncancerous tumors found in the uterus. As a result of the fibroids, she was bleeding excessively both during and in-between menstrual cycles, which caused her to become anemic. Her doctor at the time put her on daily iron pills to help regulate her anemia.

After her doctor retired, Colleen started seeing a nurse practitioner who performed a biopsy of the endometrial lining inside of her uterus. After the biopsy, the nurse recommended that she should see Erica Montes, MD, FACOG, OB/Gyn and an independent member of the HonorHealth Medical Staff.

Dr. Montes explained the different surgical options available to treat Colleen’s fibroids, including a hysterectomy (procedure where the uterus is removed), myomectomy (procedure to remove the fibroids) and arterial embolization (procedure that cuts the blood supply off to the fibroids), which can result in a hospital stay and four to six weeks of recovery.

As an alternative to these procedures, Dr. Montes suggested an outpatient procedure that is minimally invasive, only needing two small abdominal incisions, with no hospital stay and over-the-counter pain medication instead of opioids. The procedure uses controlled radiofrequency ablation to cause the fibroids to shrink. This approach also reduces the risk of infection and blood loss.

HonorHealth gynecology patient story - Colleen

The only problem was although this procedure has been around for years and utilized in other states, it wasn't available in Arizona. For a long time, Dr. Montes pushed to have the procedure made available here, and in 2021, she was successful. Colleen was the first patient in Arizona to receive this procedure. When asked how she felt about this, she says, "Others asked if I was scared to be the first, which I wasn't. Dr. Montes has been trained on the procedure, and it has been done routinely in other states for years. It is safe, and others should give it a try."

During the procedure, Dr. Montes discovered that Colleen had two large fibroids, one near her cervix, which was the size of a mandarin orange, and the other towards the back of her uterus, which was the size of two navel oranges.

Once the procedure was finished, Colleen was told to rest, and she returned home. She shared that there was minimal pain, bruising on her abdomen and some bleeding for a few months after, but she was able to return to normal life in less than a week. Colleen also didn’t require prescription pain medication during her recovery – she only took a few Ibuprofen.

Dr. Montes monitored Colleen every three months for one year – taking vaginal ultrasounds to measure how much the fibroids were shrinking. The goal is to have them shrink up to 40% in volume within a year following the procedure. “One important point to remember is it doesn't make the fibroid disappear,” Dr. Montes says, “the procedure makes it smaller in volume and softer, which helps with symptoms including but not limited to heavy menses, pelvic pain, pressure, urinary or bowel symptoms, and bloating.”

It has now been one year since Colleen had the procedure, and she has experienced major improvements in her quality of life. She is no longer anemic, so she was able to stop taking iron pills. She doesn’t feel tired all the time and seems to have increased energy, and most importantly, she no longer has irregular menstrual cycles and bleeding in-between. Colleen went a step further to say how glad she was that she was able to keep her body parts and isn’t on lifelong medication, which would have been the result of having a hysterectomy.

“If you are dealing with symptomatic fibroids, I would definitely have you consider this procedure,” says Dr. Montes. “It is a great tool, and my patients and I are very happy with the results.”

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