THURSDAY, July 1 (HealthDay News) -- Preliminary research suggests that a new drug treatment shrinks uterine fibroids and helps women with the non-cancerous tumors retain their fertility.
Uterine fibroids, which cause abdominal pain and heavy menstrual bleeding, are a leading cause of hysterectomy. They can also contribute to miscarriage.
"Both the fibroids and the surgical interventions commonly used to treat them can cause significant fertility problems," Dr. Alicia Armstrong, chief of gynecologic services at the U.S. National Institutes of Health's Program for Reproductive and Adult Endocrinology, said in a news release.
In two new studies, researchers tested a drug called ulipristal acetate (also known as ellaOne), which blocks ovulation and is used as a form of emergency contraception. It works by adjusting the body's reaction to the hormone progesterone.
In the studies, 57 women aged 25-50 with uterine fibroids were randomly assigned to receive treatment with the drug or a placebo. They took the pills once a day for three menstrual cycles.
The fibroids shrank in more of those women who took the drug instead of the placebo, and those who took higher doses had better results. Women who took the drug also had less bleeding than those who took the placebo.
The studies show that the drug "is an effective non-invasive treatment for fibroids that can help maintain fertility in women whose only option up to now was to have surgery," Dr. Lynnette Nieman, a principal investigator with the studies, said in the news release issued by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.
The studies are both in Phase II, the second in three phases of research required before the federal government will approve a drug for a specific use.
In an interview, Dr. Scott Chudnoff, a gynecologist and uterine fibroid specialist, said the research could lead to significant new treatments for women with fibroids. But some women might not respond the same way to the treatment, and the fibroids may return when women stop taking the drug, said Chudnoff, director of gynecology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
Still, a new treatment would help doctors do a better job of personalizing their approach to individual patients, he said. The research, he added, is "definitely promising."
The study findings were to be presented Wednesday at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Rome.
For more about uterine fibroids, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
-- Randy Dotinga
SOURCES: Scott Chudnoff, M.D., assistant professor, department of obstetrics & gynecology and women's health, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and director of gynecology, Montefiore Medical Center, New York City; European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, news release, June 30, 2010
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