Surgical Procedure

Think of four of your closest female friends - according to some statistics, up to three of them could be living with noncancerous tumors known as uterine fibroids. These self-contained benign tumors can cause a variety of symptoms depending on their size and location.

Many women experience increased menstrual bleeding from fibroids growing on the lining of the uterus. Others may have such severe periods they miss a few days of work each month or even experience a hemorrhage to the extent that they need transfusions. Although fibroids are self-contained and do not spread beyond the uterus, there is just no good place for them to be.

"If fibroids grow into the muscular wall of the uterus, they can cause infertility, miscarriages or premature labor," says David Brown, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Park Nicollet. "When fibroids occur on the outer surface of the uterus, they can encroach on a woman's bladder, preventing it from filling."

Finding the right treatment option

The first line of treatment is to try conservative methods. To help control excessive bleeding, a doctor may prescribe birth control pills or an intrauterine device. If these approaches aren't effective, doctors may perform an ablation - a procedure that removes the uterine lining.

Doctors also may perform a uterine artery emobilization - a procedure that blocks blood supply to fibroids. Without blood, tumors eventually shrink, reducing related pain and bleeding. If women are nearing menopause, doctors may take a "wait-and-see" approach. During menopause, women stop producing estrogen, which causes fibroids to shrink or even disappear without medical intervention.

When surgery is needed

A hysterectomy, a surgical procedure that removes the uterus, is one option for treating uterine fibroids. But many women with fibroids are in their prime childbearing years and strongly want to keep their uterus.

"For many women who need fibroids removed, a myomectomy is the procedure of choice," says Dr. Brown. A myomectomy removes the tumors but leaves the uterus intact. Often the procedure can be done using the latest minimally invasive techniques. "The da VinciR Surgical System is a wonderful tool for removing fibroids," Dr. Brown says. "Compared to conventional laparoscopy, da Vinci offers unsurpassed precision and optics. We can see the most miniscule blood vessels in three dimensions."

Da Vinci also offers greater flexibility. With traditional laparoscopy, doctors can only move the surgical tools in a straight line. But with da Vinci, doctors can move the tools the same way they move their wrists, hands and fingers.

Patient satisfaction is goal No. 1

About 95 percent of all patients who have surgery with da Vinci make a quick recovery. "Performing myomectomies is a very rewarding experience because once women's fibroids are gone, so are their symptoms," Dr. Brown explains. "I received a note from a patient who wrote, 'Thank you for giving me my life back. I am so healthy and feel so good.'"