Saskatchewan gynecologists are the first in Canada to offer a new method of treating fibroids that could allow a woman to give birth naturally.
"This is really a fantastic advancement for fibroids," says Saskatoon gynecologist Dr. Lexy Regush. "There's nothing that comes close to the potential this has."
Using an electric probe that sizzles away uterine fibroids allows patients to avoid more invasive surgery and recover much more quickly, according to studies that compared the technique to surgically removing the growths. Regina gynecologist Dr. John Thiel travelled to Guatemala to learn the technique, which uses a machine called Acessa. Developed in California, the equipment is a bevelled, intimidatinglooking probe that pokes through a woman's belly into a fibroid embedded in the uterus.
With a pickle-grabber-like mechanism, the probe projects seven wires that zap and kill the fibroid tissue, which the body later absorbs.
Dr. Thiel has trained six other Saskatchewan doctors to do the procedure, and a seventh is learning.
Women hoping to avoid a hysterectomy have come to Saskatchewan from Nova Scotia, Ontario and Alberta for the procedure, called global fibroid ablation (GFA). Although Health Canada approved the technique in 2012, doctors need special training to do the procedure.
A fi-broid is an inflamed clump of non-cancerous tissue in the uterine wall that can sometimes grow rapidly. More than 70 per cent of women will have fibroids before they reach 50, according to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. Although many fibroids sit unnoticed, they can cause pain, heavy bleeding, bloating, frequent urination and likely affect a woman's fertility.
Maria Diamond of Carstairs, Alta., was sidelined monthly by her fibroids. She has endured at least eight years of painful menstruation that got progressively worse and kept her home from work.
"I would be in bed in pain for two days," she said.
Side-effects stopped her from taking medication that shrinks fibroids.
Although her gynecologist told her it was time for her two tennis ball-sized fibroids to come out, Diamond didn't want a hysterectomy.
She found out about Thiel's work online, and came to Saskatoon in April for surgery with Dr. Laura Weins.
The pain after the procedure wasn't as bad as she was expecting, she felt back to normal within three weeks, Diamond said.
"It's incredible that they're pioneering this. Women should consider it as an option."
The technique holds promise for women who want to have a baby, Thiel said.
When doctors cut out a fibroid, it leaves a weak spot in the uterus. After that procedure (called a myomectomy), a woman would have to deliver a baby by caesarean section, Thiel said.
The GFA technique can also find and destroy smaller fibroids than would be possible in a myomectomy, he said.
There's less cutting involved, little blood lost, and women need fewer pain drugs and are back to their regular activities more quickly than with more invasive surgery, he said.
Saskatchewan doctors have done GFA on 64 patients so far.
Now, Thiel and his colleagues are looking for women to take part in a study on the direct and indirect costs of different fibroid removal techniques.
Although the disposable Acessa probe costs about $2,000, the technique could save more in health-care and medication costs, Thiel predicts.
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