Facts About Fibroids
Fibroids are muscular tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus (womb). Another medical term for fibroids is ‘leiomyoma’ (like-oh-my-OH-much) or just ‘myoma.’ Fibroids are almost always benign (not cancerous). Fibroids can grow as a single tumor, or there can be many of them in the uterus. They can be as small as an apple seed or as big as a grapefruit. In unusual cases, they can become very large.
Why should women know about fibroids?
About 20 percent to 80 percent of women develop fibroids by the time they reach age 50. Fibroids are most common in women in their 40s and early 50s. Not all women with fibroids have symptoms. Women who do have symptoms often find fibroids hard to live with. Some have pain and heavy menstrual bleeding. Fibroids also can put pressure on the bladder, causing frequent urination, or the rectum, causing rectal pressure. Should the fibroids get very large, they can cause the abdomen (stomach area) to enlarge, making a woman look pregnant.
Who gets fibroids?
There are factors that can increase a woman’s risk of developing fibroids.
Age. Fibroids become more common as women age, especially during the 30s and 40s through menopause. After menopause, fibroids usually shrink.
Family history. Having a family member with fibroids increases your risk. If a woman’s mother had fibroids, her risk of having them is about three times higher than average.
Ethnic origin. African-American women are more likely to develop fibroids than white women.
Obesity. Women who are overweight are at higher risk for fibroids. For very heavy women, the risk is two to three times greater than average.
Eating habits. Eating a lot of red meat (e.g., beef) and ham is linked with a higher risk of fibroids. Eating plenty of green vegetables seems to protect women from developing fibroids.
Where can fibroids grow?
Most fibroids grow in the wall of the uterus. Doctors put them into three groups based on where they grow:
Submucosal (sub-my-KOH-Juhl) fibroids grow into the uterine cavity.
Intramural (in-truth-MOOR-uh) fibroids grow within the wall of the uterus.
Subserosal (sub-such-ROH-Juhl) fibroids grow on the outside of the uterus.
Some fibroids grow on stalks that grow out from the surface of the uterus or into the cavity of the uterus. They might look like mushrooms. These are called pedunculated (pic-DUHN-you-lay-ted) fibroids.
What are the symptoms of fibroids?
Most fibroids do not cause any symptoms, but some women with fibroids can have:
Heavy bleeding (which can be heavy enough to cause anemia) or painful periods
Feeling of fullness in the pelvic area (lower stomach area)
Enlargement of the lower abdomen
Pain during sex
Lower back pain
Complications during pregnancy and labor, including a six-time greater risk of cesarean section
Reproductive problems, such as infertility, which is very rare
What causes fibroids?
No one knows for sure what causes fibroids. Researchers think that more than one factor could play a role. These factors could be:
Hormonal (affected by estrogen and progesterone levels)
Genetic (runs in families)
Because no one knows for sure what causes fibroids, we also don’t know what causes them to grow or shrink. We do know that they are under hormonal control ‘ both estrogen and progesterone. They grow rapidly during pregnancy when hormone levels are high. They shrink when anti-hormone medication is used. They also stop growing or shrink once a woman reaches menopause.
Can fibroids turn into cancer?
Fibroids are almost always benign (not cancerous). Rarely (less than one in 1,000) a cancerous fibroid will occur. This is called leiomyosarcoma (like-oh-my-oh-say-KOH-much). Doctors think that these cancers do not arise from an already-existing fibroid. Having fibroids does not increase the risk of developing a cancerous fibroid. Having fibroids also does not increase a woman’s chances of getting other forms of cancer in the uterus.