Uterine myomas cause heavy menstrual bleeding and other clinically significant symptoms in 35%-50% of affected women and have been shown to be the leading indication for hysterectomy in the United States among women aged 35-54 years.
Research has shown that a significant number of women who undergo hysterectomy for treatment of fibroids later regret the loss of their uterus and have other concerns and complications. Other options for therapy include various pharmacologic treatments, a progestin-releasing intrauterine device, uterine artery embolization, endometrial ablation, MRI-guided focused ultrasound surgery, and myomectomy performed laparoscopically, robotically, or hysteroscopically.
Myomectomy seems largely to preserve fertility, but rates of recurrence and additional procedures for bleeding and myoma symptoms are still high – upward of 30% in some studies. Overall, we need other more efficacious and minimally invasive options.
Radiofrequency volumetric thermal ablation (RFVTA) achieved through the Acessa System (Halt Medical) has been the newest addition to our armamentarium for treatment of symptomatic fibroids. It is suitable for every type of fibroid except for type 0 pedunculated intracavitary fibroids and type 7 pedunculated subserosal fibroids, which is significant because deep intramural fibroids have been difficult to target and treat by other methods.
Three-year outcome data show sustained improvements in fibroid symptoms and quality of life, with an incidence of recurrences and additional procedures – approximately 11% – that appears to be substantially lower than for other uterine-sparing fibroid treatments. In addition, while the technology is not indicated for women seeking future childbearing, successful pregnancies are being reported, suggesting that full-term pregnancies – and vaginal delivery in some cases – may be possible after RFVTA.
Radiofrequency ablation has been used for years in the treatment of liver and kidney tumors. The basic concept is that volumetric thermal ablation results in coagulative necrosis.
The Acessa System, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in late 2012, was designed to treat fibroids, which have much firmer tissue than the tissues being targeted in other radiofrequency ablation procedures. It uses a specially designed intrauterine ultrasound probe and radiofrequency probe, and it combines three fundamental gynecologic skills: Laparoscopy using two trocars and requiring no special suturing skills; ultrasound using a laparoscopic ultrasound probe to scan and manipulate; and probe placement under laparoscopic ultrasound guidance.
Specifically, the system allows for percutaneous, laparoscopic ultrasound–guided radiofrequency ablation of fibroids with a disposable 3.4-mm handpiece coupled to a dual-function radiofrequency generator. The handpiece contains a retractable array of electrodes, so that the fibroid may be ablated with one electrode or with the deployed electrode array.
The generator controls and monitors the ablation with real-time feedback from thermocouples. It monitors and displays the temperature at each needle tip, the average temperature of the array, and the return temperatures on two dispersive electrode pads that are placed on the anterior thighs. The electrode pads are designed to reduce the incidence of pad burns, which are a complication with other radiofrequency ablation devices. The system will automatically stop treatment if either of the pad thermocouples registers a skin temperature greater than 40° C ( JSLS. 2014 Apr-Jun;18:182-90 ).
Laparoscopic ultrasound–guided RFVTA has been studied in five prospective trials, including one multicenter international trial of 135 premenopausal women – the pivotal trial for FDA clearance – in which 104 women were followed for 3 years and found to have prolonged symptom relief and improved quality of life.
At baseline, the women had symptomatic uterine myomas and moderate to severe heavy menstrual bleeding measured by alkaline hematin analysis of returned sanitary products. Their mean symptom severity scores on the Uterine Fibroid Symptom and Quality-of-Life Questionnaire (UFS-QOL) decreased significantly from baseline to 3 months and changed little after that, for a total change of –32.6 over the study period.
The cumulative repeat intervention rate at 3 years was 11%, with 14 of the 135 participants having repeat interventions to treat bleeding and myoma symptoms. Seven of these women were found to have adenomyosis ( J Minim Invasive Gynecol. 2014 Sep-Oct;21:767-74 ).
The surprisingly low reintervention rates may stem from the benefits of direct contact imaging of the uterus. A comparison of images from the pivotal trial has shown that intraoperative ultrasound detected more than twice as many fibroids as did preoperative transvaginal ultrasound, and about one-third more than preoperative MRIs ( J Minim Invasive Gynecol. 2013 Nov-Dec;20:770-4 ).
Interestingly, four women became pregnant over the study’s 3-year follow-up, despite the inclusion requirement that women desire uterine conservation but not future childbearing.
We have followed reproductive