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Uterine fibroids, also known as leiomyomas, are usually benign masses that are most commonly found in women of reproductive age. Fibroids are usually asymptomatic and tend to be incidental findings on ultrasound. When clinically relevant, however, patients report symptoms such as menorrhagia, pelvic pain, and bulk-related symptoms. Treatment of symptomatic fibroids may be pharmaceutical with gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists, radiological using MRI-guided focused ultrasound surgery (or magnetic resonance-guided focused ultrasound), or minimally invasive uterine artery embolization, but the treatment is largely surgical. There are many different surgical approaches that can be utilized, including myomectomy or hysterectomy. Treatment of choice depends on multiple factors, including the severity of symptoms, size of fibroids, and patient’s desire to preserve fertility. However, out of all of the different surgical techniques available, hysterectomy is the only definitive treatment for these patients. Here, an abdominal hysterectomy was performed on a 45-year-old patient with symptomatic uterine fibroids.
Leiomyomas, also known as fibroids, are the most common benign tumors in women of reproductive age. According to Boosz et al., fibroids can be seen in up to 80–90% of females.1 Due to its high prevalence, it also poses a large economic burden; estimated health care costs for management of fibroids are as high as two billion dollars annually in the United States.2
These tumors originate from the myometrium of the uterus, and thus its growth is affected by female hormones, estrogen and progesterone. As a result, increased age until menopause is one of the risk factors for fibroid development.3 Other risk factors, such are African American race, early menarche, nulliparity, obesity, and family history of fibroids.3 Fibroids are treated when symptomatic in patients. Treatment of symptomatic fibroids may be pharmaceutical with gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists, radiological using MRI-guided focused ultrasound surgery (or magnetic resonance-guided focused ultrasound), or minimally invasive uterine artery embolization, but the treatment is largely surgical, to include myomectomy or hysterectomy. Hysterectomy is the most effective treatment.2 Symptomatic fibroids account for up to 39% of all hysterectomies performed in the United States annually.3 In this case, an abdominal hysterectomy was performed on a 45-year-old female who presented with symptomatic leiomyomas.
Symptoms in patients with fibroids are diverse, depending on the size and location of these masses. Symptoms can range from asymptomatic to significant complications such as infertility. The pathogenesis of fibroids involves local anatomical changes in the uterus that cause a disruption in endometrial function, such as increased contractility and impairment of uterine blood supply.2 These functional changes manifest clinically as heavy menstrual bleeding and pelvic pain, which are the most common symptoms that patients present with.1 When these masses grow large enough, these patients can also present with bulk-related symptoms, such as pelvic pressure, bowel dysfunction, urinary frequency and urgency or retention, low back pain, constipation, and protuberant abdomen. Sometimes, fibroids can be palpated during a routine pelvic exam. However, these masses can also be detected with imaging, which is used instead to make an official diagnosis.
Transvaginal ultrasound is the gold standard for diagnosing leiomyomas.3 Fibroids detected on ultrasound are typically incidental findings due to their asymptomatic nature. As a result, it is not recommended for physicians to screen for fibroids in asymptomatic patients.1 Hysteroscopy is another diagnostic tool that can be particularly helpful in differentiating intracavitary myomas from polyps.2 Regardless, detection of fibroids with imaging coupled with patient symptoms and physical exam findings are sufficient to confirm a diagnosis of fibroids.
Fibroids that are left untreated not only lead to a worsening of symptoms but also cause significant complications such as iron deficiency anemia and infertility. The pathophysiology of infertility secondary to fibroids involves hormonal changes that may impair gamete transport and/or reduce blastocyst implantation.2 Female patients who present with infertility should therefore be evaluated for fibroids and have them removed. Multiple studies have shown that women with uterine fibroids have an increased risk of complications such as cesarean delivery, breech presentation, preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM), delivery before 37 weeks gestation, and postpartum hemorrhage secondary to uterine atony.3 Therefore, it is recommended that pregnant patients who have fibroids be monitored closely to prevent these complications.
Fortunately, these benign masses have a very small risk of developing into malignant tumors. Prevention of malignancy alone is therefore not an indication for hysterectomy.
Management of fibroids is largely surgical, with hysterectomy serving as the only definitive treatment for this condition.2 However, indications for surgical intervention depend on a variety of different factors such as the severity of symptoms as well as the desire to maintain fertility. Therefore, patients must be consulted on their desire to preserve fertility before determining the treatment of choice.
Other therapeutic techniques include uterine artery embolization (UAE), a minimally invasive procedure for patients that involves injecting occluding agents into the uterine arteries to limit blood supply to the fibroids.3 Additionally, procedures such as MR-guided focused ultrasound and myomectomy are alternative treatment options that are particularly indicated for patients who are planning to conceive in the future.3
Drug therapies are occasionally used as a pretreatment to surgical intervention. Due to the pathogenesis of fibroid development, medications such as gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) analogs and selective progesterone receptor modulators (SPRMs) that antagonize the effects of estrogen and progesterone, respectively, can be given to help shrink these masses before surgical intervention.2
The goal of treatment is to remove fibroids when indicated in order to relieve symptoms and other complications that may impact the patient’s quality of life.
Patients should always be asked whether or not they would like to preserve their fertility before determining the treatment of choice. For patients who would like to preserve their fertility, MR-guided focused ultrasound or myomectomy is the best option. Otherwise, interventions such as hysterectomy and UAE are the preferred treatment options.
In this case, a successful abdominal hysterectomy with preservation of the ovaries was performed on a 45-year-old patient who presented with symptomatic leiomyomas. Hysterectomy is the second most commonly performed surgery in the world following cesarean section.4 It is the most effective treatment for symptomatic fibroids and can be performed via three different approaches: laparoscopic, vaginal, and abdominal.2 Choice of surgical technique depends on several factors such as the size and location of fibroids. Vaginal hysterectomy is associated with positive outcomes such as shorter operative time, decreased blood loss, shorter hospitalization, reduced postoperative pain, and earlier return to normal activity.3-4 Alternatively, laparoscopic hysterectomy is becoming a more popular technique and is also associated with positive outcomes similar to vaginal hysterectomy. In fact, rates of laparoscopic hysterectomies performed have increased over the last twenty years, increasing from 0.3% in 1990 to 11.8% in 2003.5 It should be noted that laparoscopic removal of the uterus is sometimes performed with morcellation. As a result, laparoscopic hysterectomy should be performed only in patients without suspected or known uterine cancer in order to prevent the dissemination of potentially malignant tissue.
However, these approaches are not indicated when patients present with larger fibroids, due to their increased risk of complications. Laparoscopic extraction of the uterus can be especially challenging, as trocar insertion is more difficult and can directly injure the uterus and/or intraabdominal organs, causing excessive bleeding and thus prolonged operative time. According to Hwang et al., uterine fibroids that are greater than 13 cm are contraindicated in both vaginal and laparoscopic hysterectomy, and abdominal hysterectomy, which was performed in this video, is instead the treatment of choice.4
UAE is an alternative procedure that has several indications: multiple fibroids, very large fibroids, restricted operability, a history of multiple operative procedures in the abdomen, and the patient’s desire to preserve her uterus.3 UAE is associated with several positive patient outcomes, such as reduced blood loss, shorter procedural times, and shorter hospital stays.1 On the other hand, UAE has also been associated with a higher risk of reintervention and unwanted effects such as complete amenorrhea, abdominal pain from ischemic necrosis of fibroids, and risk of infection.2 In a study conducted by van der Kooij et al., reintervention or secondary hysterectomy rates were as high as 26–34% during a 5-year follow-up period.6 Furthermore, UAE is may be associated with subclinical deterioration of ovarian function. As a result, this procedure is not recommended for patients who would like to preserve their fertility. Other contraindications include pregnancy, active uterine or adnexal infections, IV contrast allergy, and renal insufficiency.3
MR-guided focused ultrasound is another treatment option for those who want to maintain their fertility. MRI is used to help visualize and target the mass before ultrasound energy is utilized to induce coagulation tissue necrosis.2 This procedure is generally well tolerated; however, patients are at risk for developing complications such as skin burns, pain, nausea, and allergic reactions.1 Another drawback to performing this procedure is its relatively high rate of recurrence. In a five-year follow-up study, the reoperative rate for patients who underwent this procedure was as high as 59%.3 This procedure is also contraindicated in pregnant patients or those who have pre-existing contraindications to MRI.
Myomectomy is another option for patients who wish to conceive in the future. Hysteroscopic myomectomy, in particular, is a standard minimally invasive procedure for submucosal myomas smaller than 2 cm and can be done in an outpatient setting.2 Alternatively, laparoscopic myomectomy can also be indicated for smaller fibroids and is associated with shorter recovery and reduced postoperative morbidity compared to abdominal myomectomy. However, several studies have reported no differences in outcomes between the two approaches.2 There are several contraindications for laparoscopic myomectomy, such as intramural myomas greater than 10–12 cm and multiple myomas (>4) in different sites of the uterus that would require multiple incisions.2 However, as with UAE and MR-guided focused ultrasound, studies have shown that recurrence of symptomatic fibroids post-myomectomy can occur in up to 10% of patients within the next decade.3
In some circumstances, drug hormonal therapy such as GnRH analogs, selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), aromatase inhibitors, and SPRMs is used in patients in addition to surgical intervention. In a study published by Boosz et al. medications such as GnRH analogs have been shown to lead to a volume reduction in fibroids; however, they also come with a plethora of side effects including dizziness, hot flushes, and loss of bone mineral density, which preclude them from being used long-term.1 Additionally, when these medications are stopped in patients due to their adverse effect profiles, studies have shown that fibroids will grow back to their original size.1 Other medications, antagonizing estrogen effects, such as aromatase inhibitors and SERMs come with similar side effects due to hypoestrogenism.3 On the other hand, SPRMs, notably ulipristal acetate, have a much better side effect profile and also have a sustained effect in reduced fibroid size after discontinuation.2 As a result, these drugs are typically favored over GnRH analogs.
However, there is little evidence that shows that pretreatment with these drug therapies improves resectability or reduces operative time.1 Furthermore, it is still too early to determine whether or not these drugs can be used as monotherapy over surgical intervention. As a result, further research is needed to determine the role that these therapies play, if at all, in the treatment of fibroids.
Nothing to disclose.
The patient referred to in this video article has given their informed consent to be filmed and is aware that information and images will be published online.
- Boosz AS, Reimer P, Matzko M, Römer T, Müller A. The conservative and interventional treatment of fibroids. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2014;111(51-52):877-883. https://doi.org/10.3238/arztebl.2014.0877
- Donnez J, Dolmans MM. Uterine fibroid management: from the present to the future. Hum Reprod Update. 2016;22(6):665-686. https://doi.org/10.1093/humupd/dmw023
- De La Cruz MS, Buchanan EM. Uterine Fibroids: Diagnosis and Treatment. Am Fam Physician. 2017;95(2):100-107. PMID: 28084714
- Hwang JL, Seow KM, Tsai YL, Huang LW, Hsieh BC, Lee C. Comparative study of vaginal, laparoscopically assisted vaginal and abdominal hysterectomies for uterine myoma larger than 6 cm in diameter or uterus weighing at least 450 g: a prospective randomized study. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2002;81(12):1132-1138. https://doi.org/10.1034/j.1600-0412.2002.811206.x
- Jacoby VL, Autry A, Jacobson G, Domush R, Nakagawa S, Jacoby A. Nationwide use of laparoscopic hysterectomy compared with abdominal and vaginal approaches. Obstet Gynecol. 2009;114(5):1041-1048. https://doi.org/10.1097/AOG.0b013e3181b9d222
- van der Kooij SM, Bipat S, Hehenkamp WJ, Ankum WM, Reekers JA. Uterine artery embolization versus surgery in the treatment of symptomatic fibroids: a systematic review and metaanalysis. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2011; 205(4).