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Fibroid Treatments Demystified, Part IV: Myomectomy

 

Myomectomy, a widely practiced method of removing subserosal or intramural uterine fibroids, is an alternative to hysterectomy for fibroid patients seeking uterine preservation.

How Myomectomy Works

In myomectomy, a surgeon removes one or more fibroids by cutting them out of the uterine wall. While incisions are made in its tissue, the uterus itself ultimately stays in place. Depending on the type and location of the fibroids, myomectomy may be performed laparoscopically (accessing the uterine cavity through abdominal incisions) or hysteroscopically (accessing the uterine cavity by way of the vagina).
The method used for performing myomectomy dictates the recovery and hospitalization time. Post-operative hospital stays currently range from 0-2 days, and recovery time ranges from 4-6 weeks.

Treatment Outcomes

Myomectomy patients typically see an enduring reduction in symptoms: in a recently published study, the research team of Pitter et al. reported that 62.9% of the myomectomy patients in their study population were free of symptoms at three years post-procedure.

Once a fibroid is completely removed, it will not grow back. That is not to say, however, that new fibroids won’t develop, potentially triggering the return of symptoms. A study by Yoo et. al assessed the probability of fibroid recurrence in laparoscopic myomectomy patients over an 8-year follow-up period. The researchers observed that the cumulative probability increased steadily from 11.7% at 1 year post-procedure to 84.4% at the 8 year mark. Factors influencing fibroid recurrence were found to be patient age, number of fibroids, pre-operative uterine size, and childbirth following the procedure. Another team of researchers, Obed et al., added family history of fibroids and multiple symptoms as to that list of factors, and concluded from their own study that “there is a high recurrence of uterine fibroids following myomectomy”.

Risks associated with myomectomy include post-surgical adhesions and both intra- and post-operative bleeding. Dubuisson et al. observed adhesions, or scars produced as incisions in the uterine tissue heal, in 35.6% of patients during “second-look” laparoscopy; this result that has been corroborated by additional studies. Cases of uterine rupture during pregnancy following a laparoscopic myomectomy have also been reported.

Since a myomectomy does not involve removal of the uterus, it is possible to preserve the patient’s fertility. Research largely suggests that myomectomy is an appropriate procedure for fibroid patients who desire pregnancy. That said, certain complications associated with myomectomy, such as adhesions, can, themselves, impair fertility – a fact that should be taken into account when considering the fertility-sparing aspects of the procedure.

One technique for removing larger fibroids through small ports in laparoscopic myomectomy, called power morcellation, has recently been the subject of major controversy. In power morcellation, a tool called a morcellator is used to dissect large fibroids, so that the dead tissue may be more easily extracted without expanding the abdominal incisions. In April 2014, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) released a safety communication notice discouraging use of power morcellation, citing concerns that the technique could spread cancerous cells within the abdominal cavity if it came in contact with cancerous tissue. While uterine fibroids (also called leiomyomas) are almost always benign, the rare fibroid (about 1 in 1,000) that is malignant may not be detected as such in advance of surgery. Several manufacturers of the power morcellator have since pulled the device from the market, and power morcellation is now rarely used in laparoscopic myomectomies.

 

 

SOURCES:

Pitter, M.C. et al. “Fertility and Symptom Relief following Robot-Assisted Laparoscopic Myomectomy”, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Apr 19, 2015. ePub. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4417601/. Retrieved July 2, 2015

Yoo, E. et al. “Predictors of leiomyoma recurrence after laparoscopic myomectomy.” Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynecology, Nov-Dec 2007; Vol. 14(6):690-7

Obed et al. “Uterine fibroids: risk of recurrence after myomectomy in a Nigerian population.” Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Feb 2011; Vol. 283(2):311-5

Dubuisson J.B., et al. “Second look after laparascopic myomectomy”, Human Reproduction. 1998; Vol. 13:2102–6

“FDA discourages use of laparoscopic power morcellation for removal of uterus or uterine fibroids”, FDA News Release, Apr 17,2014. Web: http://www.fda.gov/newsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm393689.htm. Retrieved July 2, 2015.

 

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What Is A GnRH Agonist?

If you’ve done a little homework on fibroid treatments or discussed treatment options with your gynecologist, you may have encountered the term “GnRH agonist”. Here’s what it is: GnRH stands for Gonadotrophin Releasing Hormone; it is a hormone that the body naturally produces and in women, it serves the function of stimulating egg production in the ovaries. The term “agonist” refers to a synthetic drug that simulates the body’s own, naturally produced material (or in this case, hormone).  Supplementing the body’s natural supply of GnRH with a GnRH agonist effectively inhibits the ovaries’ production of estrogen and testosterone, pushing the body into a menopausal state.

GnRH agonists have multiple uses in reproductive medicine, including treating pain associated with endometriosis and temporarily relieving symptoms of uterine fibroids. GnRH agonists can be used to treat heavy bleeding, one of the most common symptoms experienced by fibroid sufferers and women with endometriosis. In fact, for women taking GnRH agonists, bleeding tends to cease altogether, a condition known as amenorrhea. In this way, the treatment (also referred to as “GnRH analogue therapy”) helps to resolve anemia and a low blood cell count. When taken in advance of surgery, GnRH agonists can reduce the likelihood of a blood transfusion being required.

Furthermore, the drug’s significant effect on the growth of fibroids has been observed in many clinical studies. It’s not surprising: fibroids, benign uterine tumors, are estrogen-dependent. When estrogen levels in the body drop, fibroids shrink. By decreasing the body’s estrogen production, GnRH agonists—commercially available in such drugs as Lupron, Zoladex, Synarel, Buserelin, and Prostap—cause fibroids to shrink. Research indicates that continuous use of a GnRH agonist reduces fibroid size by approximately 50% after 3 months. Due to its fibroid-shrinking properties, GnRH agonists are commonly prescribed to women who are scheduled to undergo myomectomy; shrinking the fibroids in advance of the procedure minimizes the invasiveness of their extraction through laparoscopic surgery.

The most common symptoms experienced by patients undergoing the hormone-suppressing treatment are the symptoms typically associated with menopause: these can include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, moodiness or depression, headaches, and loss of bone density. “Add-back” hormone therapies (i.e. taking estrogen drugs) can usually provide some relief from these symptoms, without undermining the effectiveness of the primary therapy. No permanent side effects have been noted in human studies, though GnRH agonists are not indicated for long-term use. Studies have demonstrated the continuous use of a GnRH agonist, in conjunction with hormone add-back therapy to counteract bone density loss and other symptoms of estrogen deficiency, to be safe and effective for up to 2 years.

While the effects of taking a GnRH agonist may be profound, they are not permanent. Once the GnRH agonist is discontinued, estrogen levels start to return to the pretreatment state, reversing menopausal symptoms triggered by the treatment. In a study conducted by the research team of Rein et al., fibroid patients who were treated with a GnRH agonist became amenorrheic shortly after starting treatment. Four to ten weeks after discontinuing the treatment, the patients’ menses returned. The researchers also observed a rapid regrowth of fibroids once patients discontinued the GnRH agonist therapy. However, since fibroid patients GnRH agonists are most commonly prescribed in preparation for myomectomy, regrowth of fibroids following cessation of the drug is not a matter of concern.

 

SOURCES:

  1. Rein M. S. et al. “Fibroid and myometrial steroid receptors in women treated with gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist leuprolide acetate” Fertility & Sterility. 1990; Vol. 53: pp.1018-1023
  2. American Society for Reproductive Medicine, “GnRH Agonist Therapy”, ReproductiveFacts.org: 2011. Retrieved July 10, 2015, from https://www.asrm.org/detail.aspx?id=1884
  3. Burbank, F. Fibroids, Menstruation, Childbirth, and Evolution, pp. 93-98. Wheatmark, 2009. Tucson, AZ.
  4. Friedman, A.J. et al. “Long-term medical therapy for leiomyomata uteri: a prospective, randomized study of leuprolide acetate depot plus either oestrogen-progestin or progestin add-back for 2 years”, Human Reproduction. 1994; Vol. 9: pp.1618-1625

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