Fibroid Facts: July Is Fibroids Awareness Month

Fibroid awareness means knowing more about an extremely prevalent gynecological condition. It is estimated that as many as 77 percent of women of childbearing age could have the condition without knowing it. Eighty percent of all women will develop fibroids by age 50. That number spikes to nearly 90 percent for African-American women, who are three times as likely to be negatively affected by the condition. For many African-American women, larger fibroids with heavy bleeding can develop at a younger age.

The staggering number of women with fibroids means that this should be one of the best-understood conditions, and yet, so many women are unsure about how it can affect their lives.

READ ALSO: All You Need To Know About Fibroids: Symptoms, Treatment & Diagnosis

What Are Uterine Fibroids?

Uterine fibroids are tumors or lumps made of muscle cells and other tissue that grow within the wall of the uterus.  They are the most frequently (20-50%) seen tumors of the female reproductive system and are also benign in nature, in other words, they are not cancerous.

Fibroids may grow as a single tumor or in clusters. A single fibroid can be less than 1 inch in size or can grow to 8 inches across or more. A bunch or cluster of fibroids also can vary in size.

Where Do Uterine Fibroids Grow?

Experts put fibroids into three groups based on where they grow:

  • just underneath the lining of the uterus
  • in between the muscles of the uterus
  • on the outside of the uterus.

Most fibroids grow within the wall of the uterus. Some fibroids grow on stalks (called peduncles) that grow out from the surface of the uterus, or into the cavity of the uterus.

READ ALSO: Study Shows Link Between Chemical Hair Relaxers & Uterine Fibroids In Black Women

What are the symptoms of uterine fibroids?

Many women don’t feel any symptoms with uterine fibroids. But fibroids can cause the following:

  • heavy or painful periods
  • bleeding between periods
  • feeling “full” in the lower abdomen – sometimes called “pelvic pressure”
  • urinating often (from a fibroid pressing on the bladder)
  • pain during sex
  • lower back pain
  • reproductive problems, such as infertility, multiple miscarriages and early onset of labor during pregnancy

What Causes Fibroids?

Currently, little is known about what causes uterine fibroids. Scientists have a number of theories, but none of these ideas explains fibroids completely. Most likely, fibroids are the end result of complex factors interacting with each other. These factors could be genetic, hormonal, environmental or a combination of all three.

Who Gets Uterine Fibroids?

Most of the time fibroids grow in women of childbearing age, but can be found in women of all ages. Researchers now recognize several risk factors for uterine fibroids:

  • African-American women are 3-5 times at greater risk than white women.
  • Women who are overweight or obese for their height (based on body mass index or BMI) are at slightly higher risk.
  • Women who have given birth appear to be at a lower risk.
  • Lifestyle factors such as the use of hair relaxer among black women poses significant risK.

READ ALSO: Uterine Fibroids : Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

How Are Fibroids Diagnosed?

Usually, fibroids are found by abdominal or pelvic examination or pelvic ultrasound. To confirm a diagnosis, your health care provider may use imaging technology such as ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), X-rays or a CT “cat”- scan. Sometimes the only way to confirm the diagnosis is through surgery.

  • Laparoscopy — the surgeon makes a small cut into the abdomen, after inflating it with a harmless gas; then, using a small viewing instrument containing a light, the doctor can look for fibroids.
  • Hysteroscopy — the surgeon inserts a camera on a long tube through the vagina directly into the uterus to see the fibroids.

How Are Fibroids Treated?

There are several factors to consider when recommending treatment for fibroids.

  • Does the woman have symptoms of uterine fibroids?
  • Does she want to become pregnant?
  • How large are the fibroids?
  • What is the woman’s age?

If a woman has many symptoms or feels pain often, medical therapy may be considered.

  • Pain medication may relieve symptoms.
  • Gonadotropin releasing hormone agonists block the body from making the hormones that cause women to menstruate or have their periods. If you have symptoms, have health conditions that make surgery less advisable and are near menopause or do not want children, you may consider this treatment.
  • Antihormonal agents, like mifepristone, will slow or stop the growth of fibroids.

If a woman has moderate symptoms, surgery may be the best form of treatment.

  • Myomectomy: removes only the fibroids and leaves the healthy tissue of the uterus in place.
  • Hysterectomy: is used when a woman’s fibroids are large, or has heavy bleeding and she is either near or past menopause or does not want children.
  • Endometrial ablation: destroys the endometrial lining of the uterus. It controls very heavy bleeding, but afterwards a woman might not be able to have children.
  • Myolysis: is a procedure in which an electrical needle is used to destroy the blood vessels feeding the fibroids

Do Fibroids Lead To Cancer?

Uterine fibroids are not cancerous. Fibroids are not associated with cancer and they do not increase your risk for uterine cancer.

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