For women who want to have children, “hysterectomy” is a pretty scary word. Usually performed as a last resort, the procedure — which involves the removal of the uterus and sometimes the cervix, ovaries, and fallopian tubes, too — is recommended to treat and prevent certain types of reproductive cancer (including cervical, ovarian, and uterine). It’s also a common treatment option for fibroids, endometriosis, vaginal prolapse, and several other conditions, as well as part of sex-reassignment surgery. And, it’s become all too common, especially in America. Hysterectomies are the second most common surgery among American women — in fact, almost one in three women will have a hysterectomy by age 60.
In the past, of course, a hysterectomy meant that giving birth would no longer be possible. But, advances in surgical transplant procedures may soon change that. In the first major experiment of its kind, doctors in Sweden have performed successful womb transplant procedures on nine women with the hope that they may soon be able to give birth to their own children.
The nine patients, most of whom are in their 30s, received transplanted wombs from blood relatives; they had either been born without a uterus or had previously undergone a hysterectomy. While other womb-transplant procedures in Saudi Arabia and Turkey failed to help transplant recipients to give birth, the doctors in the Swedish study are hopeful that their innovative new process, which used live donors, will be more successful.
As for the patients, all are healthy and in stable condition. Most were discharged within a few days of their transplants, and all received their periods within a few weeks of the procedure, indicating that the new wombs are functioning properly. While the doctors did not connect the patients' fallopian tubes to their new uteri, all of the patients had their own ovaries and could make their own eggs. The next step is in-vitro fertilization to see whether or not the patients can successfully get pregnant — and carry a child to term.
However, the procedure is not without controversy. The fact that the wombs are taken from live patients and that the doctors remove more of the surrounding tissue than they normally would from a dead donor, makes this process unusually risky for the woman donating her uterus. In Britain, at least, these risks make the procedure unethical from an official standpoint. It remains to be seen whether American doctors will feel the same — or if they might consider attempting a similar procedure in the future. (Time)