Around a quarter of women have fibroids benign fibrous tumours in their wombs. Many have no symptoms but others suffer heavy or prolonged periods and pain, and sometimes face reproductive problems including infertility or miscarriage. In the UK last year there were 47,000 hysterectomies and 60% involved fibroids. In the USA around 400,000 hysterectomies are performed annually for fibroids.
Although there are already a number of less invasive and successful techniques available for suitable patients they all still involve general anaesthetic and a hospital stay, as well as prolonged discomfort or pain in many cases.
The new approach believed to be the first in the world to treat fibroids using a combination of lasers and MRI has been developed by researchers from St. Mary's Hospital, London, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. So far they have treated 66 women aged between 34 and 55.
Treatment involves inserting four fine needles through the skin under local anaesthetic. These are placed into the fibroid under MR guidance, which produces a thermal image of the fibroid updated every three seconds. Bare laser fibres are inserted into the needles and a laser is used to 'zap' the fibroid with thermal energy. The MR image turns from blue to green as the temperature reaches the optimum level of 55C. The 'real time' colour images allow the operator to maximise the treatment within the target area while keeping inside the target boundary, thus avoiding damage to normal surrounding tissue.
Dr Wladyslaw Gedroyc, consultant radiologist and head of the Department of Intervention
Contact: Margaret Willson
European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology