A 43-year-old woman gets pregnant after fibroid removal surgery at UCLA Health
What to know about fibroids and fertility.
After several challenging years of trying to build a family, a now-pregnant Danel Lombard is full of feelings: relieved, excited, lucky.
Having met her fiancé later in life, Lombard, now 43, began her family-building journey at the age of 40. After six months of trying and no pregnancy, she was referred to a fertility specialist to undergo a series of tests. It was then that Lombard’s doctor discovered she had a fibroid on the left side of her pelvis that was blocking her fallopian tube and causing fertility issues.
Fibroids are the most common noncancerous tumors in the uterus, and about 70 to 80 percent of women will have fibroids in their lifetime, according to Valentina Rodriguez, MD, a UCLA Health OB-GYN and fibroid surgeon. Nevertheless, only a small portion of women develop symptoms, which include pressure, bloating and heavy or irregular bleeding. While these symptoms can be burdensome and may warrant medical attention, Rodriguez stresses that fibroids will never turn cancerous.
If fibroid symptoms disrupt a women’s quality of life, the go-to treatment has been to remove the women’s uterus, otherwise known as a hysterectomy. But Dr. Rodriguez suspects that as treatment options expand, there will be a shift away from the one-size-fits-all hysterectomy solution. Women will be able to choose from an array of choices, like medication or minimally invasive surgery.
Fibroids and fertility
While having fibroids doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant and have a healthy baby, in some cases, the tumors can negatively impact fertility, according to Dr. Rodriguez.
If the fibroid is located within the uterine cavity, for example, it’s blocking the location where the embryo implants. And researchers say that fibroids also secrete proteins that interfere with pregnancy implantation. Fibroids located outside of the uterus can increase the likelihood of a miscarriage, too.
Lombard was referred to Dr. Rodriguez, who recommended that she get her fibroid removed, via minimally invasive surgery, to better her chances of getting pregnant. “We only talked about removing the fibroid once it was clear that she was having difficulties along the way,” Dr. Rodriguez says.
Having already gone through two unsuccessful rounds of in vitro fertilization, and knowing recovering from surgery would take time, Lombard was devasted to hear about the new obstacle in her already years-long family planning journey.
“It was hard enough to deal with IVF treatments, and then to realize there's going to be another few months was a huge blow,” Lombard recalls. “Every minute that went by, I was getting older and it was getting harder.”
The surgery would also make Lombard ineligible for a natural birth, her preferred method of birthing her child.
Rodriguez says because women with fibroids can still get pregnant, she decides to remove fibroids based on the patient’s medical journey. Minimally invasive surgery is also a good treatment option for patients who want to preserve their uterus.
The third round of IVF
Lombard had her fibroid removed in June 2021.
After recovering, Lombard underwent a third round of in vitro fertilization in November 2021. All but one egg retrieved were unhealthy, making the procedure more nerve-wracking because they had no backup eggs. After trying to get pregnant for years, the one healthy egg became a successful pregnancy.
Cases like Lombard’s motivate Dr. Rodriguez to provide optimal, patient-centered care. “It's the most gratifying part of what we do is to see people's quality of life go up exponentially,” Dr. Rodriguez says.
Lombard is now 24 weeks pregnant. Although it’s been a difficult three years of family planning, she says the setbacks only strengthened her relationship with her fiancé. And as a pregnant woman who’s recovered from fibroid removal surgery, she wants patients to know having fibroids does not equal infertility.
“Just because you have fibroids doesn't mean it's a death sentence as far as pregnancy goes,” she says. “There's hope.”
Kelsie Sandoval is the author of this story.
Learn more about fibroid care at UCLA Health.