For years and perhaps decades, surgery was the only way to remove fibroids in women. As would be expected, surgical removal entailed scars, pain, anaesthesia, and the mandatory admission period for the internal and external incisions to heal. Surgery also entailed transfusion of blood. Despite the overriding need to sustain women’s health through removal of fibroids, the sight of the scars left by the surgery did not make women happy. The scars were a heavy burden they just resigned themselves to carry, just to remain alive and healthy.
Fibroids are non-cancerous tumours that grow in the uterus (womb) and which can sometimes prevent a woman from becoming pregnant. Such fibroids make it difficult for the fertilised female egg, called ovum, to attach to the internal lining of the womb, leading to the ovum being flushed out of the uterus within days of failing to attach.
Advances in biomedical engineering have now given doctors a much better and more elegant way to help female patients and thereby rid women of the gynaecological cross called fibroid without invasive surgery and the ugly scars that result from the operation.
The new process is called High Intensity Focus Ultrasound (HIFU) which is like a ‘surgical blade’ that does not produce scars. The new process also does not involve blood transfusion, an issue that has prevented female members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination that uncompromisingly rejects blood transfusion because they equate the medical practice to ‘eating’ blood, which the bible condemns.
Pregnant women have always had an affinity for ultrasound scanning which enables them to digitally ‘see’ the baby whose kicks they feel as it nestles peacefully in their womb. Now, the same technology has been enhanced and repurposed to deal blows on fibroids, a nemesis that has caused psychological agony to women and indeed couples eager to have the fruit of the womb.
One gynaecologist and fertility expert who has been consistent in seeking the welfare of women facing child-bearing challenges is the Medical Director of Nordica Fertility Centre, Dr. Abayomi Ajayi, who is now using the new technology to put smiles on women and give them the joy of conception after the obstructive fibroids have been removed through HIFU surgery.
As Sunday Sun learnt, Nordica recently acquired the first HIFU unit in Nigeria, to the joy of the health community and particularly doctors who can now refer some of their patients to the centre for HIFU treatment of fibroid while they handle some other aspects of their fertility therapy.
He explains the benefits of HIFU treatment: “Myomectomy (a surgical process) can remove the fibroids while saving the uterus and the ability to get pregnant. Although a myomectomy can treat the fibroids and allow you to retain your fertility, it is invasive and may have undesirable side effects, which include scarring the endometrium (inner lining) of the uterus, which further prevents pregnancy. However, a non-invasive way to treat uterine fibroids is available and it is known as High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU)
“HIFU is the world’s first and only trans-cervical fibroid ablation system that combines the first ever intrauterine ultrasound guidance with proven benefits of targeted radio frequency energy with no incision, uterus preserving procedure. Uterine fibroids are the most common tumours in women of reproductive ages. They affect approximately one-third of women aged 35 and about 70 per cent of white women and more than 80 per cent of black women having uterine fibroids before the age of 50.
“Most women suffering from fibroids are scared of the invasive surgery that had hitherto been the only option for taking out fibroids. Today, Nigerians have a choice of our various endoscopic services or pin-hole surgeries as they are commonly referred to or the new age non-invasive solution using High Intensity Focused Ultrasound, HIFU. This procedure uses ultrasound rays to literally burn off the fibroids without any invasive method.”
The fact that new technology is now available in Nigeria, naturally made the wife of the Lagos State governor, Mrs. Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, who is also a doctor, very happy and this showed in her comments at the formal launch of the HIFU surgical process for treating uterine fibroids. Speaking through Omobolanle Johnson who represented her, Mrs Sanwo-Olu noted that the availability of HIFU surgery has put Lagos on the global map of gynaecological care of women through non-invasive fibroid removal. Nordica Centre-Lagos, Sunday Sun learnt is the first fertility facility in the West African sub-region to acquire the new technology and the third on the African continent.
“Nigeria, by this new technology acquisition has joined a unique league of 29 countries in the world. HIFU is a scientific breakthrough which is available in 29 countries and about 350 centres globally,” Ajayi revealed in his remarks
Already, three patients have successfully undergone HIFU treatment. The new fibroid treatment came in response to the yearnings of the teeming population of women suffering from uterine fibroids. Take the case of 38-year-old Patricia Omoke, whose prolonged menstrual bleeding was in 2018 diagnosed to be caused by fibroid. “My period brought cramps that were so bad and painful I was out of action for days each month. I also struggled with heavy bleeding during my periods. I went to hospital to find out the reason and learnt that I had fibroid. Every doctor recommended surgery but I was afraid because I had never had surgery. I continued to seek alternative treatment possibilities. In fact, I was trusting God for a miracle. I did other things like taking supplements and searched online for suitable options. Along the way this year, I got to know about HIFU and learnt that with HIFU, there is no surgery, no incisions, no pain, no bleeding and no complications during and after the procedure. I learnt that it uses heat to destroy fibroid tissue but does not damage nearby tissues” Omoke said.
Interestingly, Patricia learnt about HIFU through an online enlightenment campaign by Nordica, which offered the first three eligible women free HIFU surgery. Omoke happily applied, as the opportunity was like the miraculous answer to her prayer. To her delight, she was selected as the first beneficiary.
Recounting the experience, she said: “Naturally, I was scared being the first person but once I signed the consent form, I just held on to God. On the D-Day, I prepared for a long, tedious session but the actual process did not last beyond one hour and five minutes. I didn’t even know when the procedure was done. I was actually asking one of the healthcare personnel when the procedure was starting. I had been made to understand that I should be prepared to withstand temperature of up to 60 degrees or higher and I was preparing for that only to be told that the procedure had been completed and successful. I couldn’t believe it, it was a wonderful experience.”
HIFU process does not bring out the fibroid since there is no incision and scrapping as obtains in the invasive procedure. Instead the fibroid is killed in-situ by the heat, and overtime the dead fibroid is passed out or absorbed by the body. However, this depends on the position of the fibroid. If the fibroid is in the uterus it will be passed out, but it is in the uterine muscle it will be absorbed.
“I have not had any complications,” Omoke reveals, thus assuring other women challenged by fibroids to take advantage of the new technology to get rid of the troublesome non-cancerous tumour.