A new oral tablet could help thousands of women with benign womb growths, called fibroids, avoid invasive surgery, say experts advising the NHS.
Watchdog the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says Ryeqo pills should be added to the treatment options considered if a woman has moderate to severe symptoms.
That includes heavy and painful periods.
Sometimes, the growths and associated bloating make a woman look pregnant.
They can also lead to infertility.
Fibroids are really common – affecting one in three women, but particularly those who are black.
BBC Radio 1 DJ Clara Amfo has spoken openly about her experience of living with fibroids.
She told Radio 1’s Life Hacks: “A lot of people don’t know what they are. So they are basically non-cancerous growths that can appear on the womb.
“The blessing is they are non-cancerous, which is a plus, but they still cause a lot of problems around fertility, enjoyment of sexy time, with your digestive system, with your urinary system, heavy periods.
“I developed anaemia because my periods were very heavy. I was losing a lot of blood because of them.”
She recently had surgery to remove six large ones.
“I had what is called a laparoscopic myomectomy. That meant they made three incisions – they went through my belly button and made two incisions in my abdomen and then they go in with a machine, and they basically shred the fibroid in you and then like suck it out.
“The recovery was so tough. It was keyhole surgery but it was still invasive.”
- Heavy or painful periods
- Tummy (abdominal) pain
- Lower back pain
- Frequent need to urinate
- Pain or discomfort during sex
Surgery may still be the best option for some women. There are also injections available that can shrink fibroids.
Painkillers and hormonal birth control pills or coils are another option that may provide relief.
Fibroids do not need to be treated if they are not causing symptoms. Over time, they will often shrink and disappear without treatment, particularly after the menopause.
The Ryeqo tablets contain a combination of medication – relugolix with estradiol and norethisterone acetate – and are designed to be taken daily at home to help control symptoms.
Research suggests they can be used in the long term and should not affect fertility.
About 4,500 women with uterine fibroids will be eligible for a new oral treatment in England and Wales, says NICE, and it should become available within the next few months now that the guidance has been published.
Helen Knight, interim director of medicines evaluation in the NICE Centre for Health Technology Evaluation, said: “Uterine fibroids can have a profound effect on quality of life. Along with the many debilitating symptoms, there is a real lack of long-term options.
“This treatment has the potential to improve quality of life. As well as effectively reducing symptoms, it can be taken at home and is therefore more convenient than the injectable treatment, given in a hospital setting.
“It can also be used long term, which could mean improved and sustained symptom relief, it is well-tolerated, and it will mean thousands of women can avoid invasive surgery which always carries some risk.”