Biopsy Helps Avoid Surgery for Fibroids

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April 5, 2002 -- The same type of needle biopsy used to determine whether tumors are cancerous in other parts of the body can also pinpoint a commonly misdiagnosed type of uterine cancer, according to a new study. Researchers say the technique may prevent many women from having unnecessary hysterectomies.

Uterine fibroids occur in about 20-25% of women under 30, and are the reason for 30% of all hysterectomies. But researchers say 80% of those procedures are actually recommended inappropriately because a cancerous tumor is suspected, but not confirmed.

The study, published in the March 15 issue of the journal Cancer, shows a biopsy done through the cervix and into a woman's uterus, when combined with traditional MRI, can reliably distinguish between cancer and a fibroid.

Until now, researchers say doctors have recommended that many women with fibroids have hysterectomies for a "suspected malignancy" based on the size of the tumor alone.

Although needle biopsies, which extract a sample of the tumor for testing, are frequently used to diagnose cancers in other organs such as the breast, prostate, and liver, the study authors say the procedure has not gained widespread acceptance. This is most likely due to a lack of experience with its use and uncertainty about its accuracy and reliability.

The study tested the method on 435 women and found it was "highly precise" in distinguishing between cancer and fibroids, and was especially accurate in ruling out cancer.

Researchers say this diagnostic technique is simple to perform and when used in combination with MRI may reduce the number of women who undergo unnecessary surgery.