Uterine fibroids are a common condition that affects up to 80% of reproductive-age women.1 Many women with fibroids are asymptomatic, but some experience symptoms that profoundly disrupt their lives, such as abnormal uterine bleeding, pelvic pain, and bulk symptoms including bladder and bowel dysfunction.2 Although hysterectomy remains the definitive treatment for symptomatic fibroids, many women seek more conservative management. Hormonal treatment, such as contraceptive pills, levonorgestrel intrauterine devices, and gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogs, can improve heavy menstrual bleeding and anemia.3 Additionally, uterine artery embolization is a nonsurgical uterine-sparing option. However, these treatments are not ideal options for women who want to conceive.4 For reproductive-age women who desire future fertility, myomectomy has been the standard of care. Unfortunately, by the time patients become symptomatic from their fibroids and seek care, they may have numerous and/or sizable fibroids that result in high blood loss, surgical scarring, and the probable need for cesarean delivery (FIGURES 1 and 2).5
For patients who desire future conception, treatment of uterine fibroids poses a challenge in which optimizing symptomatic improvement must be balanced with protecting fertility and improving reproductive outcomes. In recent years, high-intensity focused ultrasound (FUS) and radiofrequency ablation (RFA) have been presented as less invasive, uterine-sparing alternatives for fibroid treatment that could potentially provide that balance.
In this article, we briefly review the available uterine-sparing fibroid treatments and their outcomes and then focus specifically on RFA as a possible option to address the fibroid treatment gap for reproductive-age women who desire future fertility.
Overview of uterine-sparing treatments
Two approaches can be pursued for conservative fibroid treatment: fibroid removal and fibroid necrosis (TABLE 1). We focus this review on outcomes for the most widely available of these treatments.
For reproductive-age women who wish to conceive, surgical removal of fibroids has been the standard of care for symptomatic patients. Myomectomy can be performed via laparotomy, laparoscopy, robot-assisted surgery, and hysteroscopy. The mode of surgery depends on the fibroid characteristics (size, number, and location) and the surgeon’s skill set. Although some variation in the data exists, overall surgical outcomes, including blood loss, postoperative pain, and length of stay, are generally more favorable for minimally invasive approaches compared with laparotomy, with no significant differences in fibroid recurrence or reproductive outcomes (live birth rate, miscarriage rate, and cesarean delivery rate).6 This comes at the expense of longer operating time compared with laparotomy.7
While improvement in abnormal uterine bleeding and pelvic pain is reliable and usually significant after myomectomy,8 reproductive implications also warrant consideration. Myomectomy is associated with subsequent uterine adhesion formation, with some studies finding rates up to 83% to 94% depending on the surgical approach and the number of fibroids removed.9 These adhesions can impair fertility success.10 Myomectomy also is associated with high rates of cesarean delivery,5 invasive placentation (including placenta accreta spectrum),11 and uterine rupture.12 While the latter 2 complications are rare, they potentially can be catastrophic and should be kept in mind.
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