Our very own Dr Andrew Lawson (AL), an Interventional Radiologist, was invited to Gabz FM in Botswana for an informative and educational talk on non-surgical treatment for fibroids as part of the Bokamoso Health Corner brought to you by Bokamoso Private Hospital, part of the Lenmed Group. The following is a paraphrased and edited transcript of the interview with the radio host (RH).
RH: I saw the title of what you do (Interventional Radiologist) and for the life of me, I don’t know what that is. Let’s talk about what you do?
AL: It is a bit of a strange title but what we do is also strange but incredibly effective. So the area that I focus on, being an interventional radiologist, is what they call minimal access treatment for patients who have a disease which is not cancerous, particularly fibroids. This means that it’s something that affects women with a uterus. So interventional radiologists use minimal access techniques to treat these fibroids without operating on a patient and give the best result possible. This is effective without any surgery or cesarean section operation. We work with the veins and the arteries to identify the blood supply to these growing tumours. That’s what we do.
RH: To educate us, what exactly is a fibroid?
AL: There are two important things to understand about fibroids: the first thing is that it’s a disease or problem that only women can get in their womb or the uterus – men cannot get it and the second thing is that it is not cancerous. Some people will call it a tumor, a growth, a fibroid, a myoma or a leiomyoma – they are all the same thing. This means that the treatment is not super aggressive because it is not cancerous and that it is not an emergency. Therefore, you can take time to make a decision on which treatment you want and which level of aggressiveness you want the treatment to be.
AL: Listeners may also want to know: How do I know if I have Fibroids?
AL: There are a few pointers that may indicate that you have fibroids but the definitive way to confirm is to do a sonar/ultrasound scan. Fibroids are very common and 1 in 3 women may have them or maybe even 1 in 5, and three of the five may have fibroids that are causing so much trouble in their lives that they need fibroid treatment.
There is no stigma around fibroids, there is nothing bad about it as there are a lot of good fibroid treatments. A myth worth debunking is that: if you have fibroids that does not mean you will not be able to have a child. I see and treat many patients who have had children while having fibroids. It is a secondary thing – there are many other factors that may prevent pregnancy. Women worry about fibroids being the cause of not falling pregnant and sometimes it’s a matter of just checking their male counterparts (95% of them don’t) – the problem doesn’t always lie with them. Fibroids may contribute to the problem but are not the cause.
The most common indicators for having fibroids is having extremely heavy menstrual periods, painful periods, low energy, headaches and heart beating faster than normal. Fibroids do not appear overnight, they take time to grow and because people think heavy menstrual cycles are normal – they will not notice the growth which may lead to a big tummy and weight gain. This will also lead to pressure on the bladder due to the growth and may warrant a lot of bathroom breaks.
AL: Fibroid Treatment Options?
AL: If you want a guaranteed cure of fibroids, the only option is removal of the womb. Fibroids only occur in the womb/uterus so no womb – no fibroids. This is usually a difficult or unacceptable decision due to culture, wanting to retain womanhood and fear of being cut up.
RH: What is uterine fibroid embolisation?
AL: That is what I specialise in – interventional radiology. I do a procedure called uterine fibroid embolization – this is one of the fibroid treatments and it is non-surgical. I identify the blood supply of the fibroids by moving a small wire inside a vein, killing the blood supply of the fibroid, it then dies/ shrinks and all the symptoms i.e. heavy periods, pain, bloating etc. stop being a problem. Though it may seem impossible, when done professionally by an experienced operator – the complication rate is extremely low and the reward is worth it – up to 98% of symptoms are resolved.
RH: Any additional information to share about fibroid treatments?
AL: We offer this service – uterine fibroid embolisation – in Botswana in Gaborone at Bokamoso Private Hospital. It is the only facility in the country and sub-continent – outside of South Africa. The Bokamoso gynaecologists have seen the results and learned which patients can be treated with uterine fibroid embolisation and have seen the benefits. If anyone is looking to treat their fibroids they must contact us directly at Bokamoso Hospital and through the website.