September 23, 2011
Zapper that free millions of women from the misery of fibroids
A gadget that could free millions of women from a painful condition could soon be in widespread use.
It seeks out and zaps fibroids – benign lumps in and around the womb that affect one in four women at some point in their lives.
Two British hospitals are to take part in a European trial of the device which, if successful, could be available for routine use by the end of next year.
Its maker, U.S. firm Gynesonics, says the VizAblate will provide a welcome alternative to current treatments which include drugs that put women into a temporary menopause, and the radical option of a hysterectomy.
However some gynaecologists have questioned whether it will be suitable in more than a small minority of cases. Fibroids are non-cancerous lumps of muscular and fibrous tissue that often cause no trouble.
But in some women they cause symptoms including heavy periods, anaemia, bloating and constipation, and they are linked to infertility and miscarriages.
A woman can have as many as 60 in and around her womb, which together are as big as a full-term pregnancy.
Pills used to shrink the lumps before surgery put women into a temporary menopause, even those still in their 20s.
Hysterectomies are only given to women who have completed their families, but carry all the risks of a major operation.
In contrast, the VizAblate can be used without any pre-treatment with drugs and is non-invasive, with therapy taking as little as half an hour.
The wand-shaped gadget uses ultrasound to allow the gynaecologist to locate the fibroids and then produces a radio-frequency electrical current to melt them away.
Current fibroids treatment has been known to put women into a temporary menopause
Professor Janesh Gupta, of Birmingham Women’s Hospital, will test the device on at least eight women who have very heavy periods due to fibroids.
He said: ‘You insert the probe into the middle of the fibroid, do the treatment and get out, so you don’t have any potential risk of bleeding.’
Darrin Uecker, chief executive officer of Gynesonics, said: ‘The big advantage is that it avoids hysterectomy.
‘It is a relatively short procedure, minimally invasive and done in an out-patient environment.’
Fraser Mcleod, a consultant gynaecologist in Bristol, said that there is a definite need for less invasive treatments.
He said: ‘There are quite a few non-surgical options for fibroids but they are all much more invasive than perhaps one thinks.
‘They are all quite painful and have significant risks with them.’
But Dr Yacoub Khalaf, a fibroids expert at Guy’s Hospital in London, questioned whether the gadget will be of use on anything other than small, easy-to-reach fibroids.
He also said that there is a lack of data on whether the treatment has any long-term effects on fertility.
Earlier this year it was suggested that green tea tablets could become a treatment for fibroids.
Tests of supplements containing a concentrated extract of one of the main natural chemicals in the drink began on 80 women suffering from the condition.
The trial, at the Meharry Medical College in the U.S., was designed after laboratory studies suggested the chemical, epigallocatechin gallate, is effective at reducing the growths.