New method being tested uses head to get rid of noncancerous uterine fibroids

WASHINGTON -- They're a bane of that decade or two before menopause, growths in the uterus called fibroids that cause bleeding, pain or other problems in nearly a third of women -- and they're the No. 1 cause of hysterectomies.

The latest attempted alternative: Insert a tiny electrode through a small hole and zap, an experiment to see how well the heat of radiofrequency energy shrinks fibroids.

"Women still feel they need more options, justifiably so," said Dr. Erika Banks of New York's Montefiore Medical Center, which is among six health centers nationwide testing the new RF ablation method.

There's also news for women trying to decide among already approved alternatives to hysterectomy. A separate major study aims to determine which of two options -- a longtime method called uterine artery embolization or a newer one called focused ultrasound -- works better for which women.

"Patients are maybe surprised there is no research that has definitive answers at this point on which procedure is best for their predominant symptom," said Dr. Estella Parrott of the National Institutes of Health, which is funding the comparison study at the Mayo Clinic and Duke University.

No one knows what causes these noncancerous tumors, although the hormone estrogen plays a role in their growth.

At least 30 percent of women experience symptoms from fibroids -- severe pain, heavy bleeding, bladder or bowel dysfunction, infertility or pregnancy complications -- mostly in their late 30s and 40s. By age 50, two-thirds or more of all women harbor them without reporting problems.