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WRNMMC fights uterine fibroid symptoms and development with I.R. treatment

06/09/2017

Dr. Douglas Tilton shares how the innovative treatment method combats the uterine fibroids with significantly less risk and pain to patients

 

By AJ Simmons

WRNMMC Command Communications

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) celebrated Women’s Health Week May 15-19, which serves as a yearly reminder to remain aware of the threats to the health of servicewomen and civilians alike.

The Interventional Radiology Department at WRNMMC is one of the many medical departments that continue to develop new medical techniques and procedures to improve the health of women. Currently its sights are set on one specific threat to women’s health: uterine fibroids.
Uterine fibroids are benign soft muscle tumors that are typically found in the walls of a woman’s uterus. The most common symptom associated with fibroids is varying degrees of pain and discomfort, often during specific situations or activities.
One new and promising development in the interventional radiology field to treat fibroids is called the Magnetic Resonance Guided Focused Ultrasound (MRgFUS), according to Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Douglas Tilton, an Interventional Radiologist at WRNMMC. WRNMMC is the only medical treatment facility in the Department of Defense that currently offers this treatment.
Tilton explained that the MRgFUS uses concentrated soundwaves projected from an ultrasound machine to target fibroids from outside of the body. Similar to how a magnifying glass can focus radiation (in the form of light) to a specific point, the MRgFUS focuses radiation from multiple angles to target an exact target—in this case, a uterine fibroid.
 “We traditionally have treated uterine fibroids with what’s called a uterine fibroid embolization, which is where we go in the arteries, and we cut off the blood flow to the fibroids by embolizing the arteries that lead to the fibroids,” said Tilton. “It causes the fibroids to die, and then the body absorbs those fibroids.”
Tilton explained that replacing this traditional method of fibroid removal with the MRgFUS significantly improves the safety and recovery time associated with treating fibroids.
“It’s non-invasive, patients have a lot less pain, they recover a lot quicker,” Tilton said, describing the MRgFUS. “It’s a same-day procedure, so you come in and go home on the same day. You can usually go back to work in a couple of days—usually two days or so.”
The non-invasive nature of the procedure, coupled with the quick recovery time, is a considerable improvement from the other forms of treatment, Tilton pointed out.
“The other treatments we have, you could have surgery, which it takes a while to recover from any surgery,” Tilton said. “Then our uterine fibroid embolization procedure, you usually stay in the hospital overnight, and then it’s a couple days of recovery as well.”
The ablation of fibroids using the MRgFUS, on the other hand, allows patients to return home on the same day with considerably less pain and discomfort.
Recognized by radiologists such as Tilton for its ability to provide patients with more comfortable treatment, the MRgFUS continues to develop and grow as a form of treatment for uterine fibroids.
“Right now, we have a very specific population that we can treat, which is only about 10 percent of our uterine fibroid patients,” Tilton explained. “I think as that technology develops, though, that number of patients will go up and the procedure will become a lot quicker.”
Tilton’s hopes for the procedure are not limited to uterine fibroids; however, he hopes to see the treatment develop to the point where it can pass its current limitations to treat other tumors.
“The limitations are where the ultrasounds will go,” said Tilton. “We can’t focus the ultrasounds through bowel right now. We can’t focus it through lung. There are only certain areas in the body we can get to with a focused ultrasound.”
“It’s definitely next generation kind of stuff…that [allows us] to diagnose and treat without ever going into the body with anything invasive,” Tilton explained. “I think over time it’s going to become one of the cutting-edge kind of things that, as we develop it, will be really useful for not only women, but [for treating] lots of other tumors and stuff that we have.”
Tilton encouraged patients who suffer from uterine fibroids and are interested in the MRgFUS treatment to discuss it with their gynecologist to determine if they are a candidate. He explained that patients typically need a pelvic magnetic resonance image (MRI), which can locate the exact position of fibroids, before they can be treated with the MRgFUS.
For more information about the treatment of uterine fibroids, the MRgFUS or WRNMMC’s Interventional Radiology department, call 301-295-4334.