Although the term “uterine fibroids” isn’t heard much in day-to-day conversation, these noncancerous tumors are more prevalent than you would expect. The fact is that many women are living with uterine fibroids, and some may not even know it.
What are fibroids?
Uterine fibroids are benign tumors that grow on or in the lining of the uterus. They can be as small as a walnut or as large as a cantaloupe. Often, a woman may have several fibroid tumors.
Many times, fibroids do not cause any symptoms. When they do, possible symptoms can include excessive menstrual bleeding, pelvic pain, and urinary incontinence and frequency. These symptoms can even lead to anemia from loss of blood or an enlarged abdomen from the size of the tumor.
What are the risk factors?
The cause for developing uterine fibroids is unknown, and there are no known risk factors. There are no lifestyle risks such as smoking or diet that can prevent or increase the risk of fibroids.
However, after fibroids begin to develop, the hormones estrogen and progesterone seem to influence the growth. When a woman’s body is producing more of these hormones, the fibroids grow faster.
How common are uterine fibroids?
Studies show that fibroids affect 20-40% of women age 35 and over, and may affect up to 80% of African-American women, who are at a higher risk. Usually, fibroids are diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 54, but they do occur in some women as young as 20.
In general, all women of childbearing age are potentially at risk. Because estrogen plays a large role in the growth of fibroids, fibroids usually begin to shrink by themselves after menopause because of the drop in estrogen.
Because many women with uterine fibroids do not show symptoms, some do not know they are affected. During your annual gynecological visit, your doctor will check your uterus to see if it is enlarged. If he or she thinks it is enlarged, your doctor will schedule an ultrasound to confirm the presence of fibroids.
If you are diagnosed with fibroids but do not have symptoms, your doctor may recommend “watchful waiting.” During this time, your doctor will schedule regular checkups to keep an eye on the tumor growth and any symptoms that may appear.
What are my treatment options?
For women that are showing symptoms due to fibroids, there are a few treatment options. Some women choose to remove the entire uterus through a hysterectomy. About 30-40% of hysterectomies performed annually in the United States are used to treat fibroids.
Another option is a myomectomy, which is a surgery to remove only the fibroids. This can be a great option for women with a large, prominent tumor, but often does not make sense for women with multiple fibroids.
One treatment that is gaining popularity is uterine fibroid embolization (UFE). This is a minimally invasive procedure that involves cutting off the blood flow to the fibroids in order to shrink them. UFE is an outpatient procedure and usually lasts less than an hour.
Where can I find more information?
To learn more about uterine fibroids and treatment options, download our free ebook. We have tools that can inform you on how to approach fibroids and find physicians that can help.
PLEASE NOTE: The above information should not be construed as providing specific medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician.