Sydney researchers have made a world-first leap forward that could change the treatment of endometriosis and improve the health of women living with the painful and debilitating disease.
Researchers from Sydney’s Royal hospital for women have grown tissue from every known type of endometriosis, observing changes and comparing how they respond to treatments.
It means researchers will be able to vary treatments from different types of endometriosis, determining whether a woman will need fertility treatments.
Professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Sydney Royal hospital for Women, Jason Abbott, said the development is comparable to those made in the treatment of breast cancer three decades ago.
Endometriosis is a chronic disease affecting at least one in nine Australian women and girls, with symptoms including abdominal pain, heavy periods, bloating, bleeding from the bladder and bowel, tiredness, anxiety triggered by pain and infertility.
Australian fashion designer Kate Ford has been living with the painful disease for 15 years after being diagnosed as a teenager.
“I was fainting. I was vomiting. I was getting worse and worse,” she said. “I just couldn’t do anything about it. The only option was to go on the pill when I was literally 15 and I opted not to do that.
“I ended up just having to deal with the pain until I was old enough to get the surgery at 17.”
Ford says intense pain can strike at any moment. “You can be good one second, just sitting there smiling, no pain, and then within a minute, it’s like the life has been wiped out of you.
“You go white, you faint, you’re vomiting, you’re in pain, like someone’s stabbing you in the stomach.”
Ford has endured four invasive laparoscopy surgeries before undergoing fertility treatments that led to the birth of her twins in February last year.
She welcomed the scientific discoveries being made about endometriosis. “But they still just don’t understand what it is,” she said.
Abbott said the breakthrough means different types of endometriosis will be targeted and treated more effectively, in a similar way to breast cancer.
“Thirty years ago, we treated all breast cancers the same,” he said. “We now know there are many different types of breast cancer and treat them accordingly.
“By knowing the type of endometriosis, we will be able to predict whether a patient is likely to experience an aggressive, invasive form of the disease and offer treatment to preserve her fertility.”
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