The new compound is taken orally and starts generating positive results within a week’s time. It was approved in the late summer of 2013 for distribution in Canada and since then the results have been very positive, say doctors.

“I have prescribed it many times, up to one hundred of my patients have received this drug,” says Dr. George Vilos of the London Health Sciences Centre. “It has proven to be very successful.”

Uterine fibroids a common condition

Many women are afflicted with uterine fibroids — up to 60 percent of white women and 70 percent of black women will have this condition, though it will have no adverse effects for many. “It is the most common benign tumour for women of a reproductive, pre-menopausal age,” says Dr. Vilos. That covers an age group ranging from about 18 to 50.

But commonality doesn’t make it any easier. For the unlucky ones, uterine fibroids are responsible for causing excess menstrual bleeding, with a consequent loss of hemoglobin. Also concerning is the impact of fibroids on reproductive functions, as their growth can cause pressure on vital organs.

“This pressure can cause discomfort by pushing against organs like the bladder and bowel,” says Dr. Vilos. “It can also cause reproductive issues, including infertility, and can affect pregnancies by causing premature labour or caesarean sections.” About 35 percent of hysterectomies are due to uterine fibroids, he said.

New drug delivers significant benefits

Efficacy and safety of the new drug was secured in robust clinical studies — both short and long-term — which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine and Fertility and Sterility.

“In 94 percent of women, the new compound will reduce or eliminate the bleeding within about seven days.”

It has also established a record of reliable usage in Europe, where thousands of women have taken the drug and experienced successful results, says Dr. Guylaine Lefebvre of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

Since being approved for use in Canada, the new compound has lived up to its promise of offering significant benefits to patients. It is the only medication approved by Health Canada specifically for treating uterine fibroids, and is the first in a new class of medications, called Selective Progesterone Receptor Modulators, or SPRMs.

A previous treatment, called GNRH analog, has also rendered the benefits touted by the ulipristal acetate, but takes longer to take effect — three to four weeks. It also has induced side effects associated with menopause, including hot flashes. The new drug has none of these side effects, and works much more quickly, said Dr. Lefebvre.

Reduced bleeding, shrunken fibroids

In 94 percent of women, the new compound will reduce or eliminate the bleeding within about seven days, says Dr. Vilos. Also, the uterine fibroids will be reduced in size by between 40 percent and 50 percent.

The fibroids can be shrunken and dehydrated but they can’t be eliminated completely. But that reduction in size is enough to provide relief for most women, says Dr. Vilos. “About 80 percent of women have a reduction in the pressure on other organs and their bleeding issues have been resolved.”

However, the new drug is not a cure for uterine fibroids and some symptoms may return after a course of treatment is completed. Such a course could last for three months, after which a two-month break would be prescribed before possibly starting another round, says Dr. Vilos.

In addition to offering much welcome relief from uterine fibroid symptoms, the new drug may also give patients the option of avoiding surgery to remove the fibroids, or at least reduce the degree of surgical incisions, says Dr. Lefebvre. Laparoscopy may also be a possible course of action.

The new drug will also help some women transition to menopause, when less blood is naturally supplied to the uterus, and the fibroids thus shrink on their own. In any case, the drug that presents these welcome benefits is “an exciting discovery,” says Dr. Lefebvre.