A study appearing in this month’s issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology reported that mifepristone, also known as RU486 or the “abortion pill,” may be effective in reducing the size of uterine fibroids–in turn allowing some women to avoid obtaining a hysterectomy. The study, led by Dr. Steven Eisinger at the University of Rochester in New York, treated 39 women having uterine fibroids–19 received a 5 mg daily dose, another 20 received 10 mg daily. At both dosage levels, patient uterus sizes decreased 50% following six months of treatment, without showing the side effects (e.g. hot flashes) common with an earlier tested dose of 25 mg. While researchers admit further studies are needed to observe long-term effects, they are hopeful that the shrinking of fibroids with mifepristone will 1) help protect against infertility 2) allow some women to avoid a hysterectomy and 3) reduce complications should surgery still be required.
Thirty to 70 percent of all women are estimated to have uterine fibroids–particularly women in their 30s and 40s and African American women. Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous growths that can cause often debilitating side effects such as pain and heavy bleeding, as well as pregnancy complications, including miscarriages, and infertility. Hysterectomies are the most common treatment for uterine fibroids; about 600,000 hysterectomies are performed each year to treat fibroids, in which surgeons remove both the fibroids and the entire uterus. According to the National Institutes of Health reported that almost one-fourth of all African-American women have hysterectomies because of uterine fibroids. However, other treatments that leave the uterus intact are available but not widely known or researched, including myomectomy, which surgically removes the fibroids, and uterine artery embolization which blocks blood flow to fibroids, causing them to shrink.
The Feminist Majority Foundation has been leading a campaign to increase clinical trials and research into the potential uses of mifepristone not only to treat fibroids, but also endometriosis, breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, and other serious illnesses. However, efforts by anti-abortion extremists, including a recent petition to the Food and Drug Administration asking for a review of FDA approval for the drug, have severely limited access for women in the US to a potentially lifesaving drug.