Scientists are researching a variety of female sterilization techniques that will make the process as quick and easy for women as it is for men.
The standard method has long been a surgical process called tubal ligation — often referred to as getting one's (fallopian) tubes tied.
The procedure is performed at a hospital or surgical center and requires an incision and general anesthesia. But researchers are now experimenting with some non-surgical alternatives.
"The real move is to get away from surgery," says Good Morning America's Dr. Nancy Snyderman. "Because any time you can avoid opening up someone's abdomen, even with a small scope, you're better off,"
At an American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology meeting it was reported that some researchers are even using radio frequency waves to externally "zap" the fallopian tube, so that even if the ovary releases an egg, it cannot travel into the uterus, where it could be implanted and cause pregnancy.
"So now we're really concentrating on stopping the traffic, if you will, in the fallopian tube," Snyderman says. The experimental trials on this are still very small, she notes.
A Coil of Protection
Another option that could be on the market in a few years is a procedure called STOP (or Selective Tubal Occlusion Procedure), from a company called Conceptus Inc., based in San Carlos, Calif.
The procedure involves the insertion of a small coil, and does not require cutting or penetrating the abdomen. It can be performed in an office setting with or without local anesthesia, in about 20 minutes — a bit longer than the time it takes for male sterilization.
"The small coil is inserted through the cervix and into the fallopian tube," Snyderman says. "Because there's a coil, tissue will then grow into that area. And it's really tissue [produced] within the fallopian tube that blocks the channel, and can lead to sterilization."
The coil becomes permanently embedded in the body and takes about three months to take effect.
STOP is now in the final stages of its trials with the Food and Drug Administration and appears safe, Snyderman says. The FDA is expected to approve the procedure around 2003.
Controversial Pill Could Cause Scarring
There is also an inexpensive drug called Quinacrine that can be used for sterilization.
"Interestingly, this is something that has been around forever," Snyderman says. It has been used to treat malaria in third world countries for many years.
However, there may be a chemical reaction if it's inserted intra-vaginally through the cervix. A chemical is released which causes scarring in the fallopian tube.
There's some controversy about Quinacrine because of this, and there some side effects have been reported: Bleeding, cramping, nausea, and back pain.
"Some people have pooh-poohed the side effects, saying look, they're minimal, they're transitory, they're no big deal, but women deserve to know the pros and cons of each of these procedures," Snyderman says.
A privately funded U.S. study will produce a randomized study and evaluate the use of using Quinacrine for sterilization. It will likely be a couple of years before the pills hit the market, however.