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New Ways to Treat Fibroids

If you've been diagnosed with fibroids, you're not alone. One in three women over 30 has these benign tumors in the uterus, which can cause heavy periods, anemia, pelvic pain, miscarriage, even infertility.

In most cases, fibroids are harmless and symptom-free, so they can be left alone, says Philip Brooks, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. But you need to deal with them if they're growing rapidly, are too large, or cause excessive menstrual bleeding. Until recently, the only option -- hysterectomy -- ended your childbearing years. Several new approaches:

Myomectomy This surgery, which is performed to remove fibroids only, preserves the uterus and is done using two different, minimally invasive techniques.

Myolysis A procedure in which a needle burns or freezes the tumor, shrinking it and cutting off its blood supply. This is used for smaller fibroids and is minimally invasive. However, it's not largely successful and can scar the uterine lining, which complicates future pregnancies.

Uterine artery embolization A minimally invasive procedure in which injected pellets choke off tiny blood vessels that feed fibroids. Recent studies show that it offers a faster recovery time than myomectomy but has had limited success in preserving fertility.

Drug therapy Doctors use hormones to shrink fibroids, which can bring on temporary relief from heavy periods.

"Some doctors are only comfortable with certain procedures and will just say, 'You need a hysterectomy,'" says Dr. Brooks. "That's why it's important to be educated and ask whether you might be a good candidate for another kind of treatment."