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Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE)

What is a Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE)?

Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) is a non-surgical treatment for uterine fibroids. UFE is clinically proven to reduce the major symptoms of fibroids, including pelvic pain, excessive and prolonged menstrual bleeding, and frequent urination.

Uterine fibroids (also called leiomyomas or myomas) are growths that develop from the cells that make up the muscle of your uterus.  Fibroids can range in size from small pea-sized growths to large lesions more than 6 inches wide. As they grow, they can distort the inside as well as the outside of the uterus, sometimes growing large enough to completely fill the pelvis and abdomen.  Fibroids are most common in women aged 30-40 years but can occur at any age. Fibroids occur more often in African-American women than in white women; they also occur at a younger age in African-American women and grow more quickly.

The uterus is unique in that it has multiple blood supplies. When a fibroid grows in the uterus, it receives almost all its blood supply from the uterine arteries. Therefore, blocking agents that are injected into the uterine artery reach the tumor and cut off blood flow to the fibroid, while other blood vessels continue to supply blood to the remaining healthy uterine tissues. With the blood supply is blocked, the fibroid will shrink in size.

Patients who are ideal candidates for UFE include women who:

  • Have symptomatic fibroids
  • Want to keep their uterus
  • Do not want surgery or may not be good candidates for surgery

Approximately 80% of patients will see a reduction in abnormal uterine bleeding and pelvic pain. Early studies in the USA and in Europe suggest that the fibroids do not recur after embolization.

Other benefits of UFE include:

  • Shorter average hospital stay
    • UFE: less than one day
    • Hysterectomy: 2.3 days
  • Faster average return to work
    • UFE: 10.7 days
    • Hysterectomy: 32.5 days
  • Fewer complications (after 30 days)
    • UFE: 12.7%
    • Hysterectomy: 32%

You should not have UFE if you are pregnant or want to become pregnant. The effects of UFE on the ability to become pregnant, on the ability to carry a fetus to term, and on the development of the fetus have not been determined. While there are reports of women becoming pregnant and having successful pregnancies after uterine fibroid embolization, there are no scientific study results establishing the safety of UFE on fertility and pregnancy. As with any medical intervention, you should discuss the most current clinical data with your doctor before deciding on the fibroid treatment option that is best for you.

What Should I Expect?

Prior to your procedure, you will have a thorough consultation with our Interventional Radiology nurse practitioner and one of our Interventional Radiologists. All possible treatment options will be reviewed and discussed with you in detail, and all of your questions will be answered. If UFE is the treatment of choice for you, Radiology Ltd. will make the necessary arrangements for you.

After registering at the hospital, you will be sent to the Special Procedures Area, where you will have an intravenous (IV) line placed in your arm and a tube (Foley catheter) placed into your bladder. Fluids, pain medication, and blood thinners will be given prior to your procedure. You will then be sent to the Interventional Suite in the Department of Radiology, where you will meet with your doctor (Interventional Radiologist) and the nurses and technologists trained in this procedure. You will be given sedation for relaxation and discomfort, but you will be conscious during the procedure.

A catheter (or plastic tube) will be advanced into the femoral artery located in your groin region and then advanced into the uterine artery. An angiogram will then be performed, in which images of the uterine artery are obtained during an injection of contrast material (“dye”).  Embolization particles will be injected until the artery is blocked. Both uterine arteries will be treated in this manner, blocking blood flow and causing the fibroids to shrink. You may be observed in the hospital overnight. Most patients go home by the next day and can return to normal activity within a few days.

The contrast agent that is used during the procedure is an iodine-based material. Radiology Ltd. uses only non-ionic contrast agents (the safest kind), but with all contrast agents there is always the potential for allergic reaction. Be sure to tell your technologist if you have experienced a reaction to CT contrast in the past.

For your safety and the protection of others, we do not allow anyone other than patients in our exam rooms.

Are There Potential Side Effects or Complications?

Significant complications related to UFE are uncommon. The primary risks associated with this procedure include:

  • Groin hematoma or bruising
  • Allergic reaction to the contrast material
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Transient amenorrhea (absence of menstrual cycle)
  • Possible passage of fibroid
  • Post-embolization syndrome

Who Will Be Performing My Uterine Fibroid Embolization?

Your procedure will be performed by one of our fellowship-trained Interventional Radiologists with experience in UFE and other embolization procedures.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, please call Tracey Bassett at (520) 873-3724.

Interventional Radiology Team

Julie M. Zaetta, M.D.

  • Specialties:
    General Radiology, Interventional Radiology
  • Education:
    B.S. – University of Pittsburgh, 1988
    M.D. – Temple University (Philadelphia), 1992
  • Internship:
    Diagnostic Radiology, University of Pittsburgh, 1992-1996
  • Residency:
    Interventional Radiology, University of Pennsylvania, 1996-1997
  • Fellowship:
    ABR 1996; CAQ Interventional Radiology 1997, 2009

Assistant Professor of Radiology, University of Arizona, 1997-2001
With Radiology Ltd. since 2001

Meet Angie, Tucson businesswoman

In 2011, Angie was diagnosed with uterine fibroids after suffering from heavy menstrual cycles and severe abdominal pain. Angie researched a non-surgical treatment option called Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE). After meeting with one of our Interventional Radiologists in Tucson, she decided the UFE procedure was right for her. Angie spent one night in the hospital and was able to return to her normal routine within seven days, all without harming her uterus. Life without fibroids is good for Angie.