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New hormonal medical treatment is an important advance for AUB caused by uterine fibroids

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Women with fibroids causing symptomatic abnormal uterine bleeding who choose to avoid a therapeutic procedure have a new hormonal treatment option



Uterine leiomyomata (fibroids) are the most common pelvic tumor diagnosed in women.1 Women with symptomatic fibroids often report abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB) and pelvic cramping, fullness, or pain. Fibroids also may cause frequency of urination and contribute to fertility and pregnancy problems. Treatment options for the AUB caused by fibroids include, but are not limited to, hysterectomy, myomectomy, uterine artery embolization, endometrial ablation, insertion of a levonorgestrel intrauterine device, focused ultrasound surgery, radiofrequency ablation, leuprolide acetate, and elagolix plus low-dose hormone add-back (Oriahnn; AbbVie, North Chicago, Illinois).1 Oriahnn is the most recent addition to our treatment armamentarium for fibroids and represents the first US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved long-term hormonal option for AUB caused by fibroids.

Gene dysregulation contributes to fibroid development

Most uterine fibroids are clonal tumors, which develop following a somatic mutation in a precursor uterine myocyte. The somatic mutation causes gene dysregulation that stimulates cell growth resulting in a benign tumor mass. The majority of fibroids contain a mutation in one of the following 6 genes: mediator complex subunit 12 (MED12), high mobility group AT-hook (HMGA2 or HMGA1), RAD51B, fumarate hydratase (FH), collagen type IV, alpha 5 chain (COL4A5), or collagen type IV alpha 6 chain (COL4A6).2

Gene dysregulation in fibroids may arise following chromothripsis of the uterine myocyte genome

Chromothripsis is a catastrophic intracellular genetic event in which one or more chromosomes are broken and reassemble in a new nucleic acid sequence, producing a derivative chromosome that contains complex genetic rearrangements.3 Chromothripsis is believed to occur frequently in uterine myocytes. It is unknown why uterine myocytes are susceptible to chromothripsis,3 or why a catastrophic intracellular event such as chromothripsis results in preferential mutations in the 6 genes that are associated with myoma formation.

Estrogen and progesterone influence fibroid size and cell activity

Although uterine fibroids are clonal tumors containing broken genes, they are also exquisitely responsive to estradiol and progesterone. Estradiol and progesterone play an important role in regulating fibroid size and function.4 Estrogen stimulates uterine fibroids to increase in size. In a hypoestrogenic state, uterine fibroids decrease in size. In addition, a hypoestrogenic state results in an atrophic endometrium and thereby reduces AUB. For women with uterine fibroids and AUB, a reversible hypoestrogenic state can be induced either with a parenteral GnRH-agonist analogue (leuprolide) or an oral GnRH-antagonist (elagolix). Both leuprolide and elagolix are approved for the treatment of uterine fibroids (see below).

Surprisingly, progesterone stimulates cell division in normal uterine myocytes and fibroid cells.5 In the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, uterine myocyte mitoses are more frequent than in the follicular phase. In addition, synthetic progestins appear to maintain fibroid size in a hypoestrogenic environment. In one randomized trial, women with uterine fibroids treated with leuprolide acetate plus a placebo pill for 24 weeks had a 51% reduction in uterine volume as measured by ultrasound.6 Women with uterine fibroids treated with leuprolide acetate plus the synthetic progestin, oral medroxyprogesterone acetate 20 mg daily, had only a 15% reduction in uterine volume.6 This finding suggests that synthetic progestins partially block the decrease in uterine volume that occurs in a hypoestrogenic state.

Further evidence that progesterone plays a role in fibroid biology is the observation that treatment of women with uterine fibroids with the antiprogestin ulipristal decreases fibroid size and reduces AUB.7-9 Ulipristal was approved for the treatment of fibroids in many countries but not the United States. Reports of severe, life-threatening liver injury—some necessitating liver transplantation—among women using ulipristal prompted the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in 2020 to recommend that women stop taking ulipristal. In addition, the EMA recommended that no woman should initiate ulipristal treatment at this time.10

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