By Jana Soeldner Danger
City & Shore Magazine
When Susan Isenberg of Miami began having unusually long and heavy menstrual periods, she was diagnosed with uterine fibroids. One of her doctors told her that to get rid of them, she would need a hysterectomy. “But I didn’t want that,” she says.
Then Isenberg heard about Curawave, an FDA-approved, outpatient procedure that uses targeted ultrasound to destroy fibroids without surgery.
“It’s unique,” says Dr. Suzanne LeBlang, director of MRI guided focus ultrasound at University MRI on the Boca Raton campus of Florida Atlantic University. “There’s no cutting and no catheterization, and it leaves the surrounding tissue completely intact.”
Although there are several other treatment options for fibroids besides hysterectomy, for some women Curawave can be a good choice. In addition to being noninvasive, it preserves fertility and recovery time is minimal. “The patient can leave an hour after the procedure, and go back to normal activities the next day,” says Dr. LeBlang, who was one of the first physicians in the country to use the technology.
Lauren Howitt-Vallone of Sarasota chose the procedure because she wanted to avoid surgery and anesthetic. Her recovery was remarkably uneventful. “We went out for dinner afterward,” she says.
In addition to abnormally long and heavy periods and bleeding between periods, fibroids can result in pressure in the pelvis, bowel dysfunction and urinary frequency or urgency. A large fibroid can cause the patient’s abdomen to protrude, and some can have a negative impact on fertility.
Here’s how the technology works: The patient receives a mild sedative and lies on her stomach while the physician uses an MRI to locate each fibroid. When an ultrasound beam is aimed directly into the unwanted tissue, the temperature rises to about 160 degrees, destroying the fibroid. “One millimeter outside [the fibroid’s perimeter] there’s no heat at all,” LeBlang says. “It’s very precise.”
University MRI is one of only about 14 sites in the country offering the Curawave technology. The procedure, which takes between 1 ½ and four hours, is not right for everyone. The size, number and location of the fibroids determine whether a woman is a good candidate.
One drawback: The procedure is not yet covered by insurance. Dr. LeBlang says insurance companies may be balking because the procedure is so simple and effective, women who currently choose to live with their symptoms will decide to treat them, resulting in an upsurge of claims. “It was one of the most unbelievable moments of my life when I heard insurance wouldn’t cover this procedure,” she says.
The cost of Curawave starts at about $12,000, but through September, a clinical funding program designed to increase awareness of the procedure will reduce a patient’s out of-pocket expenses to about $5,000.