By Robert Bazell Chief science and health correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/25/2004 12:59:33 PM ET 2004-08-25T16:59:33

Laura Rogers, a 38-year-old allergist, suffered from uterine fibroids, a condition that strikes hundreds of thousands of women each year. Even though she is a physician, her own gynecologist did not tell her about a non-surgical treatment option.

"Frustration, I think, would describe how I felt," says Rogers.

The non-surgical procedure -- about five years old -- is called uterine artery embolization, or UAE. Surveys show that most women do not hear about it from their gynecologists. Why? A big reason is that the procedure is performed by radiologists. Often gynecologists, who traditionally perform hysterectomies (surgical removal of the uterus), are reluctant to give up the $2,000 average fee for the surgery.

"I think financial considerations play a role for some gynecologists," says Dr. Howard Chrisman of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

But many women are demanding the procedure when they hear about it because it leaves the uterus intact.

Here's how it works: plastic spheres, similar to the ones in Christmas globe toys, play a critical role in the procedure. The doctor injects them through a tube in the patient’s artery, cutting off the blood supply to the fibroid. There is no surgical incision.

At Denver Health Medical Center, where doctors work for a salary, they consider both procedures for all patients. the risks and benefits of both procedures with patients. The Center's Dr. Charles Coddington says for many women surgery is the best option.

"There are many women that will choose to have a hysterectomy because they believe it is the best thing for them," says Coddington.

And radiologist Chuck Ray points out UAE is relatively new.

"We have short-term results that are very promising. We don't really have long-term results (that are) 10, 15 years out," he says.

But, as more women, like Laura Rogers, learn there is an alternative to hysterectomy, they are insisting their doctors consider if it's right for them.

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